Rakuten’s Behind-the-Scenes Plan for Asamura’s Shift from Second to Third, Now Targeting First Base | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Rakuten’s Behind-the-Scenes Plan for Asamura’s Shift from Second to Third, Now Targeting First Base

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Originally drafted as a shortstop, but converted to second base and then third base.

Despite struggling in league games, Rakuten achieved an unexpected underdog’s first victory during the interleague matches. While Tohoku rejoiced, behind the scenes, there’s word that veteran slugger Hideto Asamura (33) is progressing with plans to switch positions from third base.

During his time with the Seibu Lions, Asamura primarily played second base, and after transferring to Rakuten, he was often utilized as a second baseman or designated hitter. However, last offseason, it was decided upon the management’s proposal that he would challenge the position of third baseman.

“The rival at third base is veteran Daichi Suzuki (34). Compared to second base, stronger hits come his way, but the defensive range itself is relatively narrow, aiming to reduce the burden on the body through this conversion,” says a former team player. 

However, the problem of not hitting the ball seems to linger, with a batting average of around .200 and single-digit home runs.

“It may be unavoidable because hitting is a matter of water, but even in third base defense, he has made six errors, ranking tied for fourth worst in the league. Manager Toshiaki Imae (40) benched Asamura for several games during the interleague period due to his slump. Suzuki functioned as the cleanup hitter, leading the team to victory in the interleague competition without placing Asamura at third base. This demonstrated the team’s ability to manage well without Asamura in third base.”

Asamura signed a major contract worth 2 billion yen over 4 years in the 2022 offseason. Last year, despite the Pa-League’s trend of more pitching than hitting, he achieved team-leading stats with a .274 batting average, 26 home runs, and 78 RBIs in 143 games played. He also topped the home run rankings for the second time in three years.

“From the start, signing a major contract with a player in his thirties who could feasibly decline due to age, Rakuten had mentally prepared for a journey with Asamura. The team must continue to utilize him on the field. Manager Imae is unlikely to significantly deviate from the club’s policy, so even if his performance dips, Asamura will likely continue to start.”

Therefore, what has emerged is the proposal of converting Asamura to first base.

“Therefore, it’s been suggested that Asamura be converted to first base, despite his personal attachment to third base. The team aims to focus on his batting by making this move. However, convincing him will require a compelling reason. So, there’s been a proposal to use his current slump as a reason to persuade Asamura.” (Same Source)

If his performance doesn’t improve, there is also consideration of transitioning to younger players.

“It was Senior Director Kazuhisa Ishii (50) who recommended the multi-year contract with Asamura. With substantial authority within the organization, as long as Ishii remains influential, a complete removal of Asamura seems unlikely. However, there are rumors that Ishii may retire this offseason. Asamura can’t afford to let his guard down.”  (Same Source)

The slugger who led the team as the main hitter until last year now stands at a crossroads in his baseball career.

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