There is a chance that at least once a game, Ryosuke Kikuchi will make you stand up and go, “whoa.”
“Man, he’s a fun player to watch,” said one MLB scout.
Kikuchi made one of his patented highlight-worthy plays late in Samurai Japan’s win over the Netherlands on Sunday, putting a charge into the crowd of over 40,000.
The Hiroshima Carp second baseman has been turning heads on the field since 2013, when Akihiro Higashide, the Carp’s regular second baseman missed the entire season after tearing ligaments in his knee. Kikuchi took over the job for good and has only tightened his grip on it in the ensuing years.
He’s one of the most electrifying players in Japan with his slick fielding and penchant for near-impossible plays. His latest masterpiece came in the seventh inning of Japan’s 8-6, 11-inning win over the Dutch on Sunday in the World Baseball Classic.
The Dutch, trailing by a run, had a man on first with one out when Xander Bogaerts hit a ball up the middle. Kikuchi dove to his right to keep the ball in the infield and made a backwards glove-flip to Hayato Sakamoto to get the force out at second.
“Unbelievable play,” said Jonathan Schoop, a member of the vaunted Netherlands infield and a second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles. “It’s not the play, it’s the way he finished it. There are other second baseman who would’ve gotten to that ball, but the way he finished it with his glove, that was really big.”
The play helped take the wind out the beginnings of a possible Dutch rally.
“I was able to make it because it bounced off the mound a little bit,” Kikuchi said. “But I made the best play at the best time. I wanted to get a double play, but I barely caught it and tried to just get one out at least.”
Kikuchi is as much a human highlight film at second base as retired star Dominique Wilkins was in the NBA. He pops out of his stance in a flash when the ball is hit, and is able to range left and right with great speed. The 27-year old displays his agility when he gets to the ball, often twisting and turning to make amazing outs of sure hits.
He does this mostly for the Carp, but has also shined on the international level. Playing for Japan against a team of major leaguers, Kikuchi in one game ran a long way to his left, scooped up the ball and made a spinning throw to retire Ben Zobrist, then of the Tampa Bay Rays, at first base. In another game during that series, Kikuchi raced in to grab a ball on the bounce and retired the runner with a backhanded flip to first.
“I love the way he goes about the game,” the scout said. “High energy, competes, really plays like he wants to be the best guy on the field. I really like the way he goes about his business. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he gets the maximum out of his talent. He gives everything that he’s got, every game.
“He catches your eye because he plays with such energy.”
Kikuchi has also proven his worth at the plate. He was 6-for-18 with a double and two RBIs in the WBC before Japan’s game against Cuba on Tuesday, and hit .315 with 13 home runs and 56 RBIs for the Carp last season.
“I’m just getting on the bandwagon everyone else is riding,” Kikuchi said.
Still, defense is Kikuchi’s calling card, and in Schoop’s mind, it’s MLB quality.
“He just needs to do what he’s doing. He’s got a good glove, good arm, good bat,” Schoop said. “He just has to play his game. In the big leagues, I think it’s the same as here, same baseball. They have really good players here too. The game (in MLB) is fast like here.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.
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