High School Class Left Arm Ace Draft Candidates…Kaiyuki Higashimatsu (Kyoei) & Yugo Maeda (Toin Osaka) “W Close-up Filming”! | FRIDAY DIGITAL

High School Class Left Arm Ace Draft Candidates…Kaiyuki Higashimatsu (Kyoei) & Yugo Maeda (Toin Osaka) “W Close-up Filming”!

The season of high school baseball has come again this year!

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Higashimatsu is 179 cm tall, weighs 91 kg, and is from Aichi Prefecture. His fastest straight ball of 152 km/h is very attractive. Aiming for Kyoei’s first summer tournament in 28 years

In this fall’s draft, which is considered a “bumper crop” of college pitchers, only two high school pitchers will go first: Yugo Maeda, who has been Osaka Toin’s de facto ace since the fall of his freshman year, and Kaisei Tomatsu, a powerhouse pitcher from Kyoei (Aichi).

Maeda has already experienced three Koshien tournaments, while Tomatsu has never stepped on the mound at the sacred site, but his reputation is growing rapidly before his last summer.

Maeda is no sneaky guy,” Higashimatsu said. I was also blessed with seniors, but when you have a catcher like Shion Matsuo, who was selected first by Yokohama DeNA in last fall’s draft, your pitching will get better, too (laughs). (Laughs.) I would like to pitch at Koshien Stadium once, too, where you can look around 360 degrees and see a crowd. No, it’s a place I absolutely have to go.

With a thick upper body and a sturdy lower body, he throws a straight ball with a maximum velocity of 152 km/h. His father is a powerlifting champion in Japan. The motion analysis team of Fukuoka Softbank measured Higashimatsu’s ball and found that his straight ball had a RPM of 2580, where the average for professionals is about 2250 RPM. The fork has a 50 cm drop-off, and the team evaluated it as “a special pitch among the pros.

I was frustrated when scouts told me that my straight ball and fork were top-notch, but my slider was third-rate,” he said. I’ve been working on my slider as well.

His slider, which he throws into the knees of right-handed hitters, has become an excellent weapon. Until last year, he had a form similar to that of Shinichi Kondo (formerly of Chunichi), a senior at Kyoei, in which he raised his right shoulder high and lowered his left shoulder to generate velocity by using the recoil of the ball. Now, however, he has changed to a form that emphasizes control by shifting his weight with both shoulders parallel to each other.

He says, “I was more comfortable with my old form, but in summer high school baseball games, where there are many games in a row in extremely hot weather, it is easier to win with my current pitching style because I am less fatigued. My current form is designed for high school baseball. I can pursue my ideals only after I enter the pros.”

In the future, he would challenge the Major Leagues and become the first Japanese player to win the Cy Young Award–he has envisioned such a life in baseball since he was a junior high school student.

Before that, I have three goals for this year. First, I want to become the number one player in Japan at the Koshien Stadium, the number one player in the world at the U-18 Baseball World Cup to be held in Taiwan in September, and to be selected in the first round of the draft. I aim to be the best at everything I do, and if I am going to talk about big dreams, I think I need to be able to enter the pros through competition.

Meanwhile, Osaka Toin’s Maeda has been in a veil of secrecy since losing to Houtoku Gakuen (Hyogo) in the semifinals of the Senbatsu Tournament this past spring. Although he was the captain of the team in the Osaka Spring Tournament and the Kinki Tournament, he came off the bench and did not pitch publicly until June. Hence, there was speculation that Maeda, who injured his right side last fall, might be having trouble with his left elbow or shoulder.

Maeda denied the speculation outright and appealed to the public that he was in perfect condition.

I am not worried about any injury. I had a good experience last fall (at the Meiji Jingu Tournament), winning first place in Japan, but I lost the Senbatsu tournament in a disappointing way. My lower body was not stable and my form was not consistent. I felt I was still not strong enough. My teachers told me to concentrate on training in the spring, so I revised my pitching form from scratch. I want to end my last summer with a smile on my face.”

His fastball has a maximum velocity of 148 km/h, and he has a variety of breaking pitches, including a change-up that was rated as a major league pitch by a motion analysis specialist, as well as a slider and a curveball.

Compared to the spring, his thighs are a bit thicker and his body is bigger. Higashimatsu and Maeda became friends at a training camp for high school national team candidates in April of this year. Maeda listened attentively to Higashimatsu’s training routine.

I asked him in detail how many kilograms of weight he lifted and used that as a reference. As a result, my weight increased from 70 kg to 81 kg. I feel that my lower body has become stronger, and I am now able to reach higher ball speeds without putting more effort into it than before. However, I don’t intend to compete with Higashimatsu in terms of pitch speed. I really want to compete with him, but if I pursue speed, my control will deteriorate and I won’t be able to do so.

The two had vowed to pitch against each other on June 1 at the Bantelindome Nagoya in an invitational game to commemorate the 110th anniversary of Kyoei Gakuen’s founding. However, Maeda avoided pitching in the game, and it did not happen. The first time the two heroes would meet would be in August, in the scorching heat of Koshien.

Maeda is 180 cm tall and weighs 81 kg. A native of Shiga Prefecture, he was a member of Orix Junior when he was in elementary school. He was captain of the team at Osaka Toin.

From the August 4, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • Reporting and writing Yuji Yanagawa (nonfiction writer) PHOTO Hiroyuki Komatsu (Higashimatsu), Kei Kato (Maeda)

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