The NPB draft is scheduled to take place Monday evening, as the league prepares to welcome a new crop of players into its ranks.
There will be members of the 2021 draft class who make an immediate impact in 2022, some who take longer to come into their own and others who simply won’t pan out.
The dawning of a new draft class is always an opportune time to take a look at the past. There are differing opinions on when you can evaluate a class, but five years seems to be a good chunk of time to start with.
Taking that view, If you look at the 2016 draft through a 2021 lens, then the Orix Buffaloes came away with the best player. The Buffaloes used their fourth selection on a high school pitcher named Yoshinobu Yamamoto and have been reaping the benefits for a few years.
Yamamoto became a full-time starter in 2019 and has posted a 1.83 ERA in 448⅓ innings since then. He’s having his best season this year, with a 17-5 record, 1.46 ERA and 193 strikeouts. He leads the Pacific League with a 0.86 WHIP and 178⅔ innings.
The Buffaloes actually came away with a pair of frontline starters from the 2016 draft, having also taken Taisuke Yamaoka with their first pick.
The player the most teams seemed to think would be the best, however, was pitcher Seigi Tanaka, who was named as the first selection by five clubs. The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks won his rights in the ensuing lottery, but the pick has yet to pan out.
Tanaka has made 27 appearances and has a loss, a hold and a 5.28 ERA in just 29 innings during his career.
Seibu Lions shortstop Sosuke Genda is another player selected outside of the first two rounds who has had a major impact.
Genda was taken in the third round and has emerged as one of Japan’s top shortstops. He’s won the past three Golden Glove Awards and has been on the season-ending Pacific League Best Nine team since 2018.
Genda has also carved out a place for himself with Samurai Japan, winning gold medals at the 2019 Premier12 and 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The 28-year-old infielder is also a four-time All-Star.
The Lions won the Pacific League pennant in 2018 and 2019 with three members of the 2016 class — Genda and pitchers Katsunori Hirai and Tatsuya Imai — seeing a lot of playing time on those teams.
While Yamamoto and Genda were selected within the first three rounds, the DeNA BayStars unearthed outfielder Keita Sano with their ninth pick. Sano, currently the team captain, was solid in 2019, which earned him more playing time after the departure of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to MLB that offseason.
Sano won the batting title in 2020 and is hitting .302 in 132 games this season. He was on the Central League Best Nine team in 2020 and was an All-Star this year.
The Chunichi Dragons had a good draft, winning a lottery for Yuya Yanagi in the first round and selecting shortstop Yota Kyoda with their second pick.
Yanagi, is a two-time All-Star and has a 3.38 ERA in 521⅓ innings. The right-hander is 10-5 with a 2.17 ERA this year.
Kyoda, meanwhile, was the Central League Rookie of the Year in 2017 and has been a good defensive player for the Dragons. He also made an All-Star team in 2019.
The Chiba Lotte Marines missed out on Tanaka in the five-team lottery, but later won a lottery for pitcher Chihaya Sasaki, who has emerged as a good arm out of the bullpen this year. The Yomiuri Giants ended up with Naoki Yoshikawa, who has played for the national team and gotten decent playing time for the Giants the past two seasons.
Yanagi and Yamaoka have had the most success among the 12 first-round selections, a group that also includes the Hanshin Tigers slugger Yusuke Oyama and BayStars pitcher Haruhiro Hamaguchi.
Three of the 2016 draftees went on to win Rookie of the Year honors. Genda and Kyoda won in the PL and CL, respectively, in 2017 after hitting the ground running. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles outfielder Kazuki Tanaka was named as the PL’s top rookie in 2018.
Yamamoto is currently on track to become the class’ first Sawamura Award winner and may also become the first 2016 draftee to be named MVP in either league.
The draft is an inexact science. If teams could predict everything, there would’ve been a league-wide fight for Yamamoto and the losers would have then tried to acquire Genda or Yanagi.
So much goes into the success or failure of a particular player. There are no guarantees when it comes to drafting players and there’s no telling what the next five years will hold for the players who hear their names called on Monday.
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