Japan 2017 WBC Review

Overview - Japan is a two time champion of the World Baseball Classic. They are also the number one rated baseball power in the world based on their showing in international events. This makes them the team to beat in the WBC.

They have not always been a strong international baseball power. The Baseball World Cups did not have them finishing in the medal rounds until 1976 when they won a bronze medal, though like the United States they are handicapped by having a professional league running at the same time the World Cup events were being held. The teams were mostly composed of players from their college teams or from their industrial leagues. After that first medal Japan won three more bronze medals in 1980, 2003 and 2007 with their best finish a silver medal in the 1982 World Cup.

The same handicap plagues Japan that hinders the United States when the Olympics are played. Japan runs its professional leagues during the summers when the Olympics begin so their teams are composed mainly of players from college or their industrial leagues. They have won bronze medals in 1992 and 2004, with a silver medal in 1996. In the last Olympics in 2008 they did have a roster of professional players and finished in the top four to make it to the medal rounds but lost to the eventual gold medalist South Korea 6-2. The United States beat them in the bronze medal game 8-4 with a roster composed mainly of minor league ball players. The finish was a big disappointment to the Japanese, who were hoping for a gold medal in what was defined as the last Olympics in baseball.

Japan is the strongest of the three Asian powers with Korea second and Taiwan third. Japan had won five straight Asian baseball championships before Korea broke their streak in 2015. Japan finished third that year falling behind Taiwan.

Doing well in the 2017 WBC will atone for their disappointing finish in the Premier 12 where they finished undefeated in pool play but again lost to the eventual champion South Korean team in the semifinals 4-3. They did win the bronze medal by bashing Mexico 11-1, but like they are a thorn to the side of Cuba, South Korea is a thorn in the Japanese side.

In the WBC they won the opener downing Cuba in the finals. They again had some troubles overcoming South Korea, losing to them in the opening pool and the second pool. In the semi-final medal round it was Koji Uehara who pitched seven innings of shutout ball to give Japan a 6-0 win and a trip to the gold medal game against the Cubans. Daisuke Matsuzake got the start in the Cuban game Japan won 10-6.

Showing that it was no fluke Japan again won the gold in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. They still had trouble beating South Korea, losing to them in the finals of pool one. After going 1-2 against South Korea in the tournament, they played them in the finals and beat them 6-2. In the game prior to that they had eliminated the United States by spanking them 9-4.

The 2013 World Baseball Classic was a disappointment because they could not make it three in a row. They did not even get a chance to play South Korea in this event, because they were eliminated in the first round. In the semi-finals of the medal round Puerto Rico beat them 3-1 throwing a pitcher by the name of Mario Santiago.

Current International Ranking - Japan is the number one ranked team in baseball. The highest ranked team in their pool is Cuba at number 5. Japan has always been a thorn in Cuba’s attempt to advance in the WBC. Australia is number ten and China is number 18. This may be the weakest pool of the four.

Roster

Pitchers - Ryo Akiyoshi, Shintaro Fujinami, Yoshihisa Hirano (DPP), Ayumu Ishikawa, Kazuhisa Makita, Hirotoshi Masui, Yuki Matsui, Naoki Miyanishi, Takahiro Norimoto, Toshiya Okada, Kodai Senga, Tomoyuki Sugano, Shota Takeda

Designated Pitchers Pool - Kenta Ishida, Yuta Iwasada, Tatsushi Masuda, Masahiko Morifuku, Yusuke Nomura, Daichi Ohsera, Hirokazu Sawamura, Yasuaki Yamasaki

Catchers - Seiji Kobayashi, Shota Ohno, Motohiro Shima

Infielders - Ryosuke Kikuchi, Nobuhiro Matsuda, Hayato Sakamoto, Kosuke Tanaka, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Tetsuto Yamada

Outfielders - Shogo Akiyama, Norichika Aoki, Ryosuke Hirata, Sho Nakata, Seiya Suzuki, Seiichi Uchikawa

Strengths - They may not have one of the best pitchers in baseball in Shohei Otani on this roster, out due to an ankle injury and the only major leaguer on the roster is Norichika Aoki, but do not underestimate this talent. The starting pitching is still deep with Takahiro Norimoto and Tomoyuki Sugano as solid one two aces in any rotation. One of their top young starters Shintaro Fujinami will be relegated to the bullpen. On the infield they have a power hitting shortstop in Hayato Sakamoto and a 24 year old second baseman that any major league team would love to have on their roster in Tetsuto Yamada. He can steal 30 bases and hit 30 homeruns. They list Yoshitomo Tsutsugo as an infielder but he is really part of a talented outfield and may be relegated to a DH role. The 25 year old is another player who can hit 30 homeruns and steal 30 bases. In the outfield in his place could be Norichika Aoki, Seiya Suzuki and the veterans Sho Nakata or Seiichi Uchikawa. This team has more All Stars than positions for these players to play.

Weakness - Catching lacks a superstar but this team does not really have a glaring weakness. It will be interesting to see how their power plays out against major league pitchers. This is not the Japanese team of punch and judy hitters that slash the ball to the opposite field that United States audiences are used to watching. There are some sluggers on this team, and those sluggers can steal bases.

Prospects to Watch - Shintaro Fujinami was a more heralded pitcher than Otani when they were both coming up through high school. He was selected number one in the draft by more Japanese teams than Otani. Takahiro Norimoto is a strikeout machine and is always on top of the league in that category. Yuki Matsui stands only 5′8″ but he gets hitters out. He had a rough year last year as the Rakuten Golden Eagles closer. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Tetsuto Yamada hit for both power and steal bases. They could probably start for most teams in the major leagues, Tsutsugo as an outfielder and Yamada as a second baseman, though Yamada is not considered a defensive standout at his position. Seiya Suzuki is another talented outfielder scouts will be watching for major league potential.

Expected Finish - They should advance to the final four and will be myworld’s favorite to win their third WBC championship.

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