Future Major Leaguers from Each NPB Pacific League Team

Last Sunday we looked at the more popular Central League. This Sunday myworld will take a look at the Pacific League. Despite its lack of popularity it is still considered the better conference. In interleague play the Pacific usually wins the majority of the games.

Seibu Lions (34-21-0)

During the 1980s the Lions won five NPB championships in 10 years and started the 90s with three championships. They went fallow after that but still brought the major leagues players like Kaz Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kazuhisa Ishii. The money from those posts have revitalized the franchise and they returned to the championship in 2004 and 2008 but also qualifying for the playoffs in a couple of those years. The last four years the team has been short of the playoffs, but this year they have gotten off to a strong start.

Yusei Kikuchi LHP - Before Ohtani it was Kikuchi who created controversy by declaring his intent to avoid the Japanese draft and bolt to the major leagues. As a high school lefthander he had scouts drooling with his 96 mile per hour fastball. It has been a struggle for Yusei but last year he had a career year with a 16-6 record with a 1.97 ERA. He struck out 217 batters in 187.2 innings. The 2018 season is his eighth in the NPB. He has started that season 7-0 with a 2.95 ERA with 54 whiffs in 55 innings. He can request to be posted after this year or pitch one more year and become an international free agent for the 2020 season at 28 years of age.

Sosuke Genda 2B - Last year he was voted rookie of the year in the Pacific League hitting .270 with three homeruns and 37 stolen bases. This year he has raised that average to .288 with 19 stolen bases with zero homeruns. As his stats tell you he has very little power but lots of speed. Those kind of players usually do not transfer over to the major leagues unless they have batting title numbers like Ichiro Suzuki.

Hotaka Yamakama 1B - Last year in 78 games he seemed to have a breakout season hitting 23 homeruns. This year he is showing the 2017 season was no optical illusion, already slugging 18 homeruns in 55 games. He is just four RBIs short of his 61 RBIs from last year. He will be 27 years old after the end of this season and will need to be posted to have any major league dreams meant. If he waited for his nine year free agency he would be too old for any team to take an interest in him.

Nippon Ham Fighters (32-25-0)

They finished in last place last year with Shohei Ohtani. This year they are playing better without their star hitter and pitcher. The year before the Figthers won their third Japan Series. Yu Darvish has been their big major league contributor. It may be awhile before another player crosses the Pacific to play in the major leagues.

Naoyuki Uwasawa LHP - An elbow injury forced the 24 year old to miss the 2016 season. It is now 2018 and Uwasawa is a pitcher to watch. He is 5-2, 2.10. He may not be able to hit like Ohtani but his lefthanded arm has put the Fighters back into the playoff race.

Kensuke Kondo C - It is tough to sign a catcher because of their inability to communicate with the pitching staff. Only one catcher has come from the NPB to play in the major leagues and he made a minimal impact. Last year Kondo hit .413 in 57 games with an OBA of .567. This year he is at .347 with his bat getting him in the lineup every day. At 24 years of age the power is now restricted to the gaps but it could give him double digit homerun power.

Softbank Hawks (29-27-0)

Since they won a championship in 1999 they have replaced the Giants as the most consistent NPB team. They have won five more championships since then while the Giants have won four. The Hawks have also won their conference 8 times while the Giants managed to take the Central seven times. The Hawks have won the championship three of the last four years, losing to the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2016. Put them in the American League Central and they would be very competitive. They had the only catcher Kenji Johjima to jump to the major leagues.

Yuki Yanagita OF - He may to be best position player in the NPB. He was voted the MVP of the Pacific League in 2015 and the MVP of the Japan Series that same year after hitting .363 with 34 homeruns and 32 stolen bases. He has hit over .300 his last four years and this year he is at .353 with 14 homeruns and 13 stolen bases. Yuki has yet to have a 100 RBI season but has had two 99 RBI seasons. At 29 years of age he is ripe to start in the outfield for any major league team.

Nao Higashihama RHP - Last year the 28 year old was the ace of the staff going 16-5, 2.64. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff but he throws strikes. This year has been a struggle with his 1-5 record and 4.88 ERA. With those numbers he may have to wait until the 2019 season before any positing.

Kodai Senga RHP - The 25 year old pitcher has had two consistent seasons winning over 10 games with ERAs around 2.60. He strikes out more than a batter an inning. This year he is 4-2, 3.27, which would be his highest ERA since his first year in 2012 when he pitched only two games.

Orix Buffaloes (29-28-1)

The fact that the Orix Buffaloes are above .500 is an accomplishment. The last time the Buffaloes were in the playoffs was in 2014 when they made it as a wild card team. The last time they won a Japan series was in 1996 when they were called the Blue Wave. In 2004 they merged with the Kintetsu Buffaloes to form one team. They currently split their home games between the two franchises stadiums. Ichiro Suzuki played for the Blue Wave.

Masataka Yoshida OF - The 25 year old outfielder appears to have earned a starting spot this year with the Buffaloes after hitting in double digits in homeruns the last two years as a part time player. This year he has started with a .299 average and 9 homeruns. He is a player to watch.

Daiki Tajima LHP - The 21 year old rookie has started his rookie season 5-2 with a 3.08 ERA. He is one of the reasons the Buffaloes find themselves over .500.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto RHP - The 19 year old made five relief appearances last year. This year he has appeared in 21 games with 11 holds and one save with a 1.29 ERA. Soon, the Buffaloes may consider him for the starting rotation.

Lotte Marines (26-29-0)

Bobby Valentine managed the Marines to a 2005 Japan Series championship, their first since 1974 when they were called the Lotte Orions. They also won another championship in 2010 without Bobby, becoming the first third place team to ever win the Japan Series. The 2005 season is the last year in which they have won the Pacific. Hideki Irabu pitched for the Marines.

Shogo Nakamura 2B - Not a lot to get excited about on this roster. Nakamura is hitting .302 with 14 stole bases. There is not a lot of power in the bat but he is only 26 years old.

Rakuten Golden Eagles (19-37-1)

They are the newest Japanese team. After struggling with a number of last place finishes after their formation in 2005 they finally won a Japan Series in 2013. This came two years after an earthquake and tsunami severely damaged their stadium in 2011. This was also a year after their star pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma left as a free agent for the major leagues. Their new ace Masahiro Tanaka led the team to a Japan Series when he finished an incredible 30-1 when you count his post season appearances.

Takahiro Norimoto RHP - One of the more prolific strikeout pitchers in the NPB. The last four seasons he has struck out more than 200 batters. In 2014 against major leaguers in an exhibition game he pitched five perfect innings in what turned out to be a combined no hitter. At 5′10′ he is not a tall pitcher but he does hit the mid-90s with his fastball. In a down season this year for the last place Eagles, Norimoto is 4-6 with a 3.59 ERA. This would be the year for the Eagles to post him.

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