Asano, Yazawa, Matsuo… A series of direct hits on the top candidates for the “10-20” Draft!
This year's lineup includes Kota Yazawa of Nichita University, the "Shohei Otani of college baseball"; Shogo Asano of Takamatsu Commercial, a "monster slugger"; Kenta Yamada of Rikkyo University, a "Rokkyo University nobleman" who has a good combination of running, offense and defense; Shion Matsuo of Toin Osaka, the "fan key of the strongest team"; and Sota Mizuguchi, the 194 cm tall, 150 km fastest ace from Kyoto University.
From an Unknown Player to a Candidate for the Draft
Before the October 20 draft meeting, the Giants were the first of the 12 teams to announce their No. 1 pick. That player was Shogo Asano, an outfielder from Takamatsu Commercial (Kagawa).
Shogo Asano, Takamatsu Commercial High School, 17 [outfielder]
I was worried about whether he would be selected or not, so now I feel a little relieved. I just wonder if …… they will really nominate me (laughs).”
Asano, who was about to meet his destiny, spoke happily on the field where he had spent the last two and a half years of his life. He has hit 68 home runs in his high school career. He hit three homers at Koshien this summer, including an oversized one off Haruto Yamada of Omi (Shiga) that went into the back screen. At the U-18 Baseball World Cup, he hit a home run against Mexico, showing that he is not bothered by wooden bats. He is a right-handed hitter by nature, but has batted left-handed in official games.
He said, “At first I just tried swinging the bat in left field to improve my physical balance, but when I batted left in games, I was able to hit, so I decided to give it a try. First, I need to be able to hit well with my right, but I would like to eventually become a switch hitter in the pros to broaden my style of play.”
Asano has a muscular body and can bench press a maximum of 115 kg and squat with a barbell weighing 200 kg. The words Asano embroiders on his gloves are “Shishi-Kunshin.
I want to be inspired and run around like a lion on the ground. That’s how I want to be in the pros.
Along with Asano, Kota Yazawa, a two-tooled player from the Nippon Sport and Physical Education University, is the centerpiece of this year’s draft. Hokkaido Nippon Ham was the first to publicly announce their selection. He was an unknown player at Fujirei Fujisawa High School (Kanagawa), where he had never played in the Koshien National High School Baseball Championship, and he submitted a letter of intent to become a professional baseball player, but was not selected. He was a standout fielder right after entering college, and by his junior year, pro scouts were eyeing him as a left-handed fastball pitcher with a max speed of 152 km/h. He has a sharp arm swing and a slider. With a sharp arm swing, he uses a slider, change-up, and two-seam pitch in a wide range of strike zones to induce strikeouts.
Against college players, if I can get my balls in the zone to some extent, I can control them easily,” he said. Up until now, my style has been to overwhelm hitters and get strikeouts, but I need to change that to some extent (with an eye toward the pros).
This fall, he complained of a strained back and had to avoid pitching in some games, but on October 1, in a game against Musashi University in the Tokyo Metropolitan University Baseball Tournament, he pitched well against the top-ranked team, which had won all of its games, to bring home the victory. The next day, he played as the DH at No. 4 and was active with four hits and two walks.
I pitched with a good tempo until I got in trouble, letting the batters hit to some extent and letting the fielders protect me so that I could get into a rhythm with the offense. On the batting side, I made a conscious effort to make sure that every at-bat I took was a good one.
The first pick in the draft to go pro–that’s what I’ve been working toward for the past four years. It took him four years to achieve this. The glove he uses on the mound is a custom-made, bright blue one.
It is the color of Nichidai, and I use it only this fall. Even in the pros, I want to become a pitcher who can get strikeouts when he wants to.
He plans to continue his two-faced approach not only as a pitcher, but also after joining the pro ranks.
The night we talked about our dreams
Among the draft candidates, Rikkyo University second baseman and captain Kenta Yamada boasts a spectacular track record. When he was a member of Osaka Toin, he won back-to-back Koshien spring and summer titles in 2006, along with four others who went on to play professionally after high school, including Kyota Fujiwara (Chiba Lotte) and Akira Neo (Chunichi). At the time, I referred to Yamada as “the Johnny’s of Osaka Toin” (a term that never stuck), but his four years in college have made him even more fearless.
I feel like I’ve finally come this far,” he said. I don’t have trouble sleeping, and I’m not nervous. Right now, I’m concentrating on the league.
In his four years of college, he hit .302 with nine home runs and was selected for the Japanese national team. However, he says, “I really wanted to go into the pros with one or two more layers on my skin.
I had a lot of problems, especially with my batting. I wanted to hit a few more home runs. It was a continuous process of trial and error. I don’t think that will change in the future. ……
In addition to Fujiwara and Neo, other Osaka Toin classmates such as Ren Kakiki (Hokkaido Nippon Ham) and Gai Yokogawa (Giants) continue to struggle to make the team. On the other hand, Kazuyoshi Tachinami, manager of Chunichi, which is based in Yamada’s hometown of Aichi, visited the October 4 game Yamada played in against Hōhō University in the Tokyo Six University League, and there is a possibility that he and Nebo will wear the same uniform again.
He said, “We spent our high school days together, and I saw firsthand how great they were. The fact that even they have not been able to play well makes me keenly aware once again that the professional game is a tough world. I want to become a player of such a large scale that customers will want to watch me play.”
Yamada’s alma mater, Osaka Toin, has sent many players to the pros in recent years, and this year three more players have submitted their applications. They are catcher Shion Matsuo, center fielder Yuudai Ebine, and ace right fielder Tsugutaka Kawahara (Shiki).
Matsuo is likely to be selected at the top of the list among them. He hit a home run in the Jingu Tournament last fall, this year’s spring and summer Koshien tournaments, and the National Athletic Meet. He originally entered Osaka Toin as a ranger, but coach Koichi Nishitani, a former catcher, saw Matsuo’s aptitude and switched him in the fall of his first year. He has been a key figure in the team’s successes as a catcher, and has been a key player in the team’s successes.
Although the team finished in the top eight at Koshien this summer, Matsuo, who won the national team title and the Triple Crown, had a look of satisfaction on his face.
I’m really glad I was able to finish with a smile on my face. I think I’m finally beginning to understand how fun it is to play catcher.
During the National Athletic Meet, the players from the participating schools stayed at the same hotel. At night, Matsuo, Asano, Yohsho Yamada, and other leading draft candidates of their generation would gather at the same hotel and work hard at swinging while talking about their dreams.
Asano loves me so much, he always comes up to me (laughs). I wanted to steal their good points by practicing with them. I wanted to steal good things from everyone by practicing together, especially the way Asano makes the ball fly. He is able to catch the ball at his own point without losing his axis when he steps on it. I use that as a reference.”
There was another “big name” at the practice session. Keita Murakami of Kyushu Gakuin (Kumamoto). He is the younger brother of Yakult’s Munetaka Murakami, who hit 56 homers this season. He also throws right-handed and hits left-handed, and in the first round of the National Athletic Meet against Seikakuin (Fukushima), he hit his first home run on the national stage. It was a shot in the opposite direction, reminiscent of his older brother’s heroics.
He said, “My strength is that I can hit long balls in all directions. I hit better with wood than with metal. When I talked to my brother Mune about it last December, he said, ‘If you have the potential, give it a try,’ so I decided to give it a shot. I have dreamed of going pro since I was in elementary school. I won’t go in training. Only under control.”
I want to compete on the same team as my brother. In other words, he added, Yakult is the team he wants to be on.
On the other hand, Sota Minakuchi of Kyoto University said, “I want to go to the pros even as a developmental player. On October 3, during a Kansai Student Baseball League game against Kwansei Gakuin, Mizuguchi took the mound at the end of the game, and the speed of his straight ball was barely displayed on the electronic bulletin board.
I guess so,” he said with a laugh. (Laughs) For me, who is not a starter type, my height and the angle of the ball are my best weapons.
At the medical school where Mizuguchi studied, he majored mainly in rehabilitation, and he says that his knowledge is useful in dealing with injuries and in his daily muscle training. Mizuguchi’s upholstered shoes had large holes in them. I couldn’t help but feel that it showed not only his condition management, but also his character of taking good care of things.
Although their paths may vary from person to person, the day of their destiny is almost here, and they all share the same aspirations.
NITTAI UNIVERSITY, Kota Yazawa 22 [Pitcher].
He is highly regarded not only as a pitcher but also as a fielder. He is expected to be the first player since Otani to play two sports at the same time.
Rikkyo University/Kenta Yamada, 22 [infielder]
Kota Yamada won back-to-back spring and summer championships in his days at Osaka Toin. His fearless looks have earned him the nickname “nobleman,” but he has a very humble personality.
Kyoto University, Sota MIZUGUCHI 23 [Pitcher]
A gifted player who studied at Kyoto University’s Faculty of Medicine after graduating from the university after a year of hard work. He led the Kyoto University baseball team to a breakthrough with his 194 cm tall, hard-hitting fastball.
Osaka Toin High School, Shion Matsuo 18 [Catcher]
He played in the Koshien Tournament this summer and became a professional player of note. He has plenty of potential to grow into a “hard-hitting catcher,” and could be a top pick.
From the October 28 and November 4, 2022 issues of FRIDAY
Interview and text： Yuji Yanagawa
PHOTO： Kei Kato (Asano, Mizuguchi), Shinji Hamasaki (Yazawa, Yamada)