There are no big names like Roki Sasaki (Chiba Lotte), who competed with four other teams in the draft the year before last, or Takahisa Hayakawa (Rakuten) and Teruaki Sato (Hanshin) from last year. Nevertheless, this year’s draft is a test of the scouts’ keen eye for the future.
Kenta Kozono (pitcher, Wakayama City High School) is a sure bet for the top pick! The first of the “Big 3” high school pitchers.
Among high school students, the “High School Big Three” of Kenta Kozono (City Wakayama), Daichi Moriki (Kochi), who recorded 150 km/h in junior high school, and Kyuta Kazama (North Asia University Meio), who has the fastest max speed of 157 km/h in his generation, are likely to compete.
Koen lost to Chiben Wakayama, the Koshien champions, in his last summer and failed to reach the sacred ground. He is the best pitcher among the three in terms of perfection. He has only given up one home run in an official high school baseball game.
He said, “I experienced a frustrating summer, but I want to make it up to myself. I can grow more. Right now, I still tend to dodge pitching at times. I want to pursue overwhelmingly straight pitching. That’s what I want to pursue. In the pros, I want to be a pitcher who is indispensable to the team, who can be in the starting rotation and win double-digit games.
Kozono vows to make a great leap forward in the professional world together with Torao Matsukawa (City Wakayama), a big catcher with strong shoulders and strong hitting, who has been Kozono’s battery partner since their junior high school days.
Moriki attracted attention earlier than anyone else in this year’s high school generation. However, he was unable to break the stronghold of Meitoku Gijuku, his rival in the prefecture, and never made it to the Koshien.
“I want to be a winning pitcher on the professional stage, and I want to represent Japan and be loved by the fans. In the future, I would like to challenge the majors. I’ve expressed this feeling in interviews with baseball teams.
Last spring, I visited a practice game between Meizou and Sendai Ikuei, one of the most prestigious teams in Tohoku. Kazama started the second game for Meizou, which had a number of good pitchers who could hit over 140 km/h and were ready to submit their applications to become professionals. Many scouts who had come to observe the game stayed until the second game, which was mainly for reserve players, and pointed their speed guns at the mound. In other words, they were looking for Kazama, who was in his second year at the time.
His pitching style is to throw down from above, and his most powerful weapon is his angled straight ball. The power of the pitch when it hits the fingers is not at the level of high schoolers, and even if you know it is straight, you cannot catch it. On the other hand, in this summer’s Koshien tournament, he could hardly get his breaking ball to work, exposing his control issues.
He said, “You can’t win with just straight pitches. I want to grow so that I can get strikes and swing at pitches with my breaking ball as well.
Kota Tatsu (Tenri), a 193cm right-hander who, like Kazama, has talked about challenging the majors in the future, is also a strong candidate for the top spot in the draft.
Kota Kazama (Pitcher, Meio High School)
Maximum speed 157km
The teams that are considering picking a high school pitcher in the first round are scratching their heads over which of the Big Three to target. Among them, Rakuten is favored to pick Kazama from Akita Meio High School in Tohoku. 183cm 81kg
Daichi Moriki (Pitcher, Kochi High School)
Maximum speed 154km
He has never played in the Koshien National High School, but his ability is on par with Koen and Kazama. 184cm 82kg
Kota Tatsu (Pitcher, Tenri High School)
Maximum speed 148km
He has a large scale pitching ability with his tall stature. He could be a first-round pick for the “one-line fishing” target. 193cm86kg
Ukyo Maekawa (Outfielder, Chiben Gakuen High School)
Total of 37 home runs in high school
A left-handed hitter who boasts one of the best long-ball skills of his generation. Reportedly listed as a top candidate by Nippon Ham. 177cm 90kg
Torao Matsukawa (Catcher, Wakayama Municipal High School)
Total of 43 home runs in high school
A valuable “catcher who can hit” who partners with Koenon in a battery. He is expected to be a top pick by Seibu and other clubs that are short on young catchers. 178cm 98kg
University student with immediate ability
While many high school players have strong right-handed pitching skills, there are many good left-handed pitchers among university students. Shunsuke Sato entered Tsukuba University from Sendai Municipal High School with the goal of becoming a professional pitcher four years from now when he is drafted first overall. He is only the second pitcher in history to be drafted first overall from a national university.
He is the second pitcher in history to be drafted first overall from a national university. “Players from public high schools and training programs are playing well in the professional ranks. I want to prove to myself that I can be successful in the professional game no matter what route I take. The only pitches I throw on the mound are sliders and change-ups. By throwing other pitches, these two pitches can deteriorate. I’d like to polish these balls.”
If Sato is the lefty representing East Japan, Chihiro Sumida of the West Japan Institute of Technology is the top candidate. He is currently a student at a local university that even amateur baseball fans are not familiar with, but he experienced the Koshien (Japan National Championship) when he was at Hasami High School in Nagasaki. His style of pitching is to use a powerful straight ball, a curve that is more than 30 kilometers slow, and a slider to slow down and catch batters.
Takumi Kurohara of Kwansei Gakuin University, an alumnus of Chiben Wakayama, is also a top candidate. Kurohara’s fastest speed is 151 km/h. A decade ago, it would have been unthinkable for a rare left-handed pitcher to reach 150 km/h and be considered a top draft pick.
As for the fielders, Ukyo Maekawa of Chiben Gakuen in Nara is a left-handed slugger who could be a top pick among high school students, while Tomoya Masaki, an outfielder at Keio University, is the first name that comes to mind. He is a baseball elite who played for Setagaya Nishi Little Senior, a prestigious junior high school baseball team, and went on to play for Keio in high school and college. This spring, he won the double crown for runs scored and home runs in the Six College Baseball Tournament, and also reached the top of the University Championship. In his final league game, he is aiming to top the batting average as well, and has set his sights on becoming the “Triple Crown King.
He said, “Hitting long balls while maintaining a high batting average is what I’ve been striving for, and whether or not I’m fulfilling my job as No. 4 is reflected in my batting average. There are not many right-handed cannon candidates among my generation. The draft is coming up, but I don’t think there will be any change in my evaluation after coming this far. Right now, I’m trying to focus on the league games.
He started playing baseball in the second grade, but even before that, he envisioned his dream of becoming a professional baseball player and planned his life accordingly.
“I’ve loved baseball since I was in kindergarten, and I always thought I would become a professional. When I was in junior high school, I saw a Waseda-Keio game and wanted to play baseball at Keio University. The shortest way to get there is to enter Keio from high school, right? My goal was to make it to Koshien, but I didn’t get there. The dream I couldn’t fulfill in high school turned into ‘University Japan No. 1,’ and I spent the next four years working towards that goal.
I would like to win the autumn league game and the Jingu tournament, which will be the last time in my university life, and realize the “four spring and autumn championships” for Keio University to give me a boost to enter the professional baseball world.
Tomoya Masaki (Outfielder, Keio University)
High school total of 50 home runs
Tomoya Masaki is the only outfielder with a chance of being selected first. He is the only fielder with a chance to be selected first. He is a “right-handed cannon” with consistent long-ball skills. 182cm 90kg
Shunsuke Sato (Pitcher, University of Tsukuba)
Maximum speed 152km
He is a southpaw with a high level of perfection, although his injury to his right side in the Fall League is a cause for concern. 182cm 82kg
Chiichiro Sumida (Pitcher, West Japan Institute of Technology)
Maximum speed of 150km
In addition to his fastball, which is over 150 km/h, he has six different types of breaking balls. Listed by the Giants, Yakult, and others as an immediate candidate for the top spot. 176cm 76kg
Takumi Kurohara (Pitcher, Kwansei Gakuin University)
Maximum speed 151km
Born in Chiben Wakayama High School. Lefty who won the MVP of the Kansai Student League in the spring. He is listed by Hanshin as a top candidate. 173cm 72kg
Catcher is also a gem
Four summers ago, Soma Tokuyama of Waseda University was selected for the U-18 Samurai Japan team along with Kotaro Kiyomiya (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham), Naonori Yasuda, and Kyohiro Fujiwara (both of Chiba Lotte), and played in the World Cup. In high school, he was the ace of Osaka Toin and won the 2005 Spring National Championship. It is a good indicator that Hayakawa, with whom I spent three years at Waseda University, has kept the starting rotation since his first year as a professional and has won nine games so far.
“I’ve been following his back for a long time. I have been following Mr. Hayakawa’s footsteps for a long time, and although I am still not as good as him, he can certainly be a barometer for me. (Looking at the hardships faced by his juniors from Osaka Toin who entered the professional ranks before him) It’s a tough world, isn’t it? There is a difference between the first and second teams. It’s no good just thinking, “I want to go,” and I’ve spent the last four years trying to make it in the pros. I’m the type of player who plays with the sharpness of the ball rather than speed. I want to jump into the professional ranks and try my hand at it.
Another player who received the ball from Tokuyama on the U-18 national team was Yuto Koga of Chuo University. Yuto Koga of Chuo University, who received the ball from Tokuyama during the U-18 Japanese national team, is one of the two best catchers among this year’s draft candidates.
I’m confident in my shoulder,” he said. I’m confident in my shoulder, and I’ve improved my throw to second base to about 1.8 seconds. Stopping stolen bases is a joint effort with the pitcher, but I think I can put pressure on the runner if I try to play my best.
Ginji Miura (Hosei University), who was Koga’s battery partner at Fukuoka Ohori High School, is also a right-handed draft candidate.
“When we graduated from high school, Ginji and I promised each other that we would go pro together in four years. I think we’ve both grown physically, mentally, and knowledgeably in college.” (Koga)
Sato, Sumida, and Tokuyama, plus Atsuya Hirohata of the Mitsubishi Motors Kurashiki Ocean’s, are the pitchers expected to make an immediate impact. At the time of the draft, the draft may have been derided as a “bad year,” but a few years later it may have changed dramatically to a “bumper crop. This year’s candidates are all diamonds in the rough that can be expected.
Yuto Koga (catcher, Chuo University)
Total of 52 home runs in high school
He has a high level of offense and defense, including throwing, and has been called the No. 1 catcher in college. 173cm 85kg
Soma Tokuyama (Pitcher, Waseda University)
Maximum speed 151km
Koshien champion pitcher who won the national championship with Osaka Toin, and a trusted ace of Waseda University by manager Satoru Komiyama. He is sure to be picked by teams that are short of pitchers. 183cm 82kg
Ginji Miura (Pitcher, Hosei University)
Maximum speed 150km
He is the ace of Hosei University, and is highly regarded as a ready-made pitcher. He is expected to be a “first-rounder” for many teams. 175cm 84kg
Atsuya Hirohata (Pitcher, Mitsubishi Motors Kurashiki Ocean’s)
Maximum speed 154km
One of the top right-handed pitchers in Japan. He is an avid fan of Yakult and is likely to be selected by the same team. 177cm 75kg
From the October 22-29, 2021 issue of FRIDAY
Interview and text by： Yuji Yanagawa (non-fiction writer) PHOTO： Kei Kato, Yuji Yanagawa, Hiroyuki Komatsu, Shinji Hamasaki, Sankei Shimbun, AFLO