Japan manager Atsunori Inaba named 11 new players Monday to the national team’s squad for upcoming international friendlies with Mexico, including Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters teenager Kotaro Kiyomiya.
Along with the 19-year-old first baseman, Fighters outfielder Haruki Nishikawa, 26, and Orix Buffaloes outfielder Masataka Yoshida, 25, will also make their Samurai Japan debuts in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics warm-up games on March 9 and 10 at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
Inaba has chosen a core of younger players for the friendlies sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation, including Yomiuri Giants infielder Kazuma Okamoto, 22, Yokohama BayStars pitcher Yasuaki Yamasaki, 26, and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks catcher Takuya Kai, 26, who all debuted for Japan in last year’s MLB All-Star series.
“This is the last chance to test out players we haven’t seen before the Tokyo Olympics next year,” Inaba said. “Mexico is a really strong team. I want to see how far we can get through.”
Japan, the top team in the WBSC rankings, beat No. 6 Mexico in the bronze-medal game of the first WBSC Premier 12 tournament in 2015.
The next edition of the tournament will be contested by 12 teams from Nov. 2-17 in Japan, Mexico, Taiwan and South Korea. It will serve as a qualifier for the 2020 Summer Games when baseball returns to the Olympic program for the first time since 2008.