Baseball / Japanese Baseball | NPB NOTEBOOK

Japanese players stay in swing of things even during winter

by Jason Coskrey

While it might be the time of year when temperatures are a little cooler and the regular season for almost every major baseball league is weeks in the rearview mirror, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a host of players still darting around a diamond somewhere.

Baseball has long been a year-round endeavour for players in other countries, who participate in various winter leagues, and Japanese pro players have increasingly been getting in on the action for the past several years.

This year, the Yokohama BayStars’ 23-year-old outfielder Tomo Otosaka took his talents to Mexico, playing 27 games for Yaquis de Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League.

Otosaka tore up the league during his brief stint, going 41-for-100 for a .410 batting average in 27 games. He was 60 at-bats short of qualifying for the batting title after his final game for the team on Dec. 15, according to Gilberto Ruiz Razo of Puro Beisbol.

Otosaka also drove in 12 runs and finished with six stolen bases. He drew 13 walks and left with a .967 on-base plus slugging percentage.

“It was a great learning experience,” he said in a television interview after his final game. “Everyone taught me about life and other things, not just baseball.”

He was also touched by the way the fans took to him so quickly.

“I heard their cheers even when I was walking around the city,” he said. “I love Obregon.”

In Australia, the Seibu Lions’ Tomoya Mori was 9-for-42 with a home run in three RBIs in 15 games for the Melbourne Aces, before returning to Japan because of an injured knee.

Lions pitcher Kona Takahashi, the team’s top draft pick in 2014, is 1-2 with a 2.82 ERA in four starts for the Aces, while Shunta Nakatsuka, another Seibu pitcher, has made eight appearances and is 2-0 with two saves and a 3.65 ERA in 12 ⅓ innings in Australia.

Over in Taiwan, there are three whole teams made up of Japanese players.

That country is currently hosting the Asia Winter Baseball League, which is in its fifth season. The league is made up of teams representing NPB, the Korea Baseball Organization and Chinese Professional Baseball League in addition this year to a Japan Amateur Baseball Association (JABA) All Star team and a World Baseball Softball Confederation team, which is essentially Team Europe.

The NPB teams (NPB East and West) are made up of players from each team’s various ni-gun squad in the Eastern and Western Leagues.

So there are many Japanese players still trying to hone their skills in the long months between seasons by playing elsewhere. Of course many others are working out on their own or in groups with former teammates or friends from around NPB. Anything to keep the fire burning during the long winter months before spring camp.

Heading out

Among the players cut by their teams at the end of the season was the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ Hiroshi Katayama.

While he didn’t have a notable career — either as a pitcher or after he switched to being a position player — Katayama, however, could be the answer to a trivia question.

In 2005, he became the first high school player ever drafted by the Eagles, who took all college or industrial league players in their inaugural draft the previous year.

While he was the Eastern League MVP in 2008 on the farm, Katayama made just 14 starts on the top team (all as a pitcher and none since 2014) and was 8-16 with a 3-13 ERA.

Baseball King reported on Saturday that the 30 year old will be a player/pitching coach for the Musashi Heat Bears in the Baseball Challenge League next season.