Baseball / Japanese Baseball | NPB NOTEBOOK

No changes to draft, posting system forthcoming says NPB commissioner

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

In October the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters pulled off a minor shocker by drafting highly-touted Tokai University pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano.

Sugano had previously stated it was his dream to play for the Yomiuri Giants, managed by his uncle Tatsunori Hara. With this known, most teams passed on Sugano, leaving him free to go to Yomiuri.

A wrench was thrown into his plans when the Fighters drafted him and won the lottery for his rights. Sugano rebuffed the team’s advances, deciding to sit out the year and take his chances in this year’s draft.

Sugano essentially picking his own team — as others including current Yomiuri player Hisayoshi Chono have done in the past — ruffled a few feathers, but NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato stated recently the system wouldn’t be changing anytime soon.

“At this present moment, I am not intending to take any additional measures related to the draft system,” Kato said. “It’s up to Sugano. He has the right to choose (whether or not to sign).”

The draft system wasn’t the only thing that rubbed some fans the wrong way last year.

In December the Seibu Lions posted shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, whose rights were won by the New York Yankees.

Contract negotiations between Nakajima and the Yankees fell apart in January, meaning Nakajima could not sign with another MLB team.

A similar situation occurred in 2010 with Hisashi Iwakuma, who had to spend 2011 with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles before joining the Seattle Mariners as a free agent this year.

Both cases laid bare some of the flaws of the posting system, which has come under fire in recent years. As with the draft, Japanese baseball is content to stick with the system in its current form.

“We have not officially talked to them (MLB),” Kato said. “Maybe some people have picked up a little bit of our conversations with each other, but there are no intentions or plans on our part to change the posting system.

“There are lots of arguments, (such as) ‘why don’t you decrease the number of seasons before players qualify for free agency?’ Many Japanese fans are having that sort of argument, but officially we have not taken any steps.

“In Iwakuma’s case, (Tsuyoshi) Nishioka’s, Nakajima’s, there are lots of arguments of course, but it’s c’est la vie.”

Running away with it: The 2012 campaign is only a few weeks old, but the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks are in midseason form on the basepaths.

The Hawks lead Japan with 25 stolen bases, 16 more than the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles who have the next highest total.

The Hawks’ acumen on the basepaths is nothing new. Softbank has led NPB in stolen bases, by a considerable margin, each of the last three seasons.

It’s a dangerous game: Baseball isn’t usually considered a contact sport, but the game does have its share of inherent dangers, as a trio of Central League hitters can attest.

The Yomiuri Giants’ Yoshiyuki Kamei was hit in the face with a pitch by Hanshin Tigers reliever Tatsuya Kojima April 8, suffering a broken nose.

Two days later the Tigers’ Akihito Fujii ended up with a fractured left cheekbone after being hit by Hiroshima Carp hurler Kan Otake.

Kamei was nearly hit in the head again by Yokohama BayStars pitcher Kazumasa Kikuchi on Friday in Yokohama.

Kikuchi was ejected later that night after hitting Giants infielder Takayuki Terauchi in the head.