My apologies for not covering the Spring Training games in more depth. Work and family have had my hands full the past few weeks. I really even shouldn't be doing this, but I've found a skerrick of time to give you the heads up on the opening day roster.
Here's how we're shaping up:
Pitchers: Shinji Tajima, Hitoki Iwase, Katsuki Matayoshi, Toshiya Okada, Yudai Ono, Daisuke Sobue, Takuya Asao, Takuya Mitsuma, Jordan Norberto
Catchers: Masato Matsui, Takuya Kinoshita, Shota Sugiyama
Infielders: Masahiro Araki, Shun Ishikawa, Issei Endo, Alexander Guerrero, Hayato Mizowaki, Yota Kyoda, Kyohei Kamezawa, Naomichi Donoue
Outfielders: Atsushi Fujii, Ryosuke Hirata, Yohei Oshima, Takahito Kudo, Dayan Viciedo
First of all, the starting pitchers, let's consider them. Yudai Ono is locked in for a start on Friday night barring injury or some sort of weird minds gamesy swap. Matayoshi has been all but given the all clear to be a starter this year and I see him taking the mound on Saturday with Jordan Norberto taking honors on Sunday. The next 3 pitchers in the rotation will be announced at a later date. My hunch is that we will see one of Araujo, Yoshimi and Wakamatsu take the next round of games. I could however be wrong. The fact that one foreign player spot can still be filled makes me think that Araujo might be used in a starting role against Hiroshima mid-week next week. Yoshimi and Wakamatsu are the others that have been in the mix as Shinnosuke Ogasawara and Yuya Yanagi are recovering from injuries. I expect the two young guns to be given a fair few starts once they're back to normal.
|Catcher Suigiyama and starting day pitcher Ono debate tactics in Spring training.|
Bullpen arms are what you'd expect minus Jorge Rondon but my guess is that Asao and Okada will be the set-uppers while Tajima closes. Sobue could be used in a set-up role too but I guess that will depend on the context of the game. Whilst I love Iwase, I'm not sure I'd want to use him in a clutch situation at the very moment. He's back to some semblance of himself but again, I think he'll be used based on the situation of the game. Having Asao back is a huge plus however as just his presence will intimidate batters. He can hit over 150 km/h, has a mean slider, forkball and a good palm-ball. If he can get back to 75% of his MVP year in 2011, the bullpen master will have returned.
|Asao could be a massive addition to the bullpen.|
As for catchers, this will be an interesting one as Sugiyama had the best OBP out of any Dragon last season and Kinoshita has shown in pre-season and on the farm last year that he's no slouch with the bat either. Both are good catchers but I can see Sugiyama getting the nod for starting day given his experience in the NPB and his experience catching Ono.
The infield will be an interesting one, but I don't think we'll see much change from last year. We'll still see Araki and Donoue in the middle with Viciedo on first. Given Shuhei Takahashi's absence, it looks as though Alex Guerrero the new boy, will be on third. Mizowaki and Kyoda I can see coming on as defensive replacements for either or as pinch-runners. Kyoda has been pro-active on the base paths with steals and while Mizowaki is no slouch running the bases, he's been in good nick with the bat. Kyoda also is the only player from the 2016 Draft Class on the starting day roster.
I'm not sure Kamezawa needs to be there but he might be a defensive replacement for Guerrero late in the game.
|Mizowaki at second and Kyoda at short could be the Dragons future middle infield|
In the outfield I don't think we'll see much change either. The only big thing will be the re-trained Issei Endo in left field. Coaches have been really impressed with his conversion from the infield. He seems to have the movement in the field down to a point where he'd being judged to be as good as Oshima. The only thing that might let him down is throwing power, but that's why Fujii is available off the bench. Oshima and Hirata will be mainstays at center-field and right-field respectively throughout the season as long as they're healthy. Both signed bumper contracts in the off-season and both have been good performers for the Dragons for the most part the last few seasons.
I think the team will shape up a little something like this:
1. Yohei Oshima
2. Masahiro Araki
3. Alex Guerrero
4. Dayan Viciedo
5. Ryosuke Hirata
6. Issei Endo
7. Naomichi Donoue
8. Shota Sugiyama
9. Yudai Ono
Naomichi might swap with Endo but I don't think we'll see much change from this line-up unless Kyoda or Mizowaki somehow starts of Araki or Naomichi in which case it will be just a straight swap.
Lastly, just as a note; while Endo is listed as an infielder and Viciedo as an outfielder that's just how they were registered with the NPB when they first started with the Dragons. They'll play outfield and infield respectively.
I for one am really pumped up for the new season. Really happy to see some new faces and I'm a bit more optimistic about this season. We may not make the top 3 again, but I do expect to see plenty of progress.
Make sure to tune in tomorrow night (JST) as Yudai Ono pitches against Miles Mikolas at the Tokyo Dome in the season opener!