Who’s Hot in the NPB

The first week of the 2021 Nippon Professional Baseball season is now in the rearview mirror. Who are the players shaking up the league. It is easy to identify hitters since starting pitchers have only appeared in two games at the most.

Central League

Ryosuke Kikuchi (Hiroshima Carp) - As a free agent he offered his services to the major leagues. No team offered him a contract he liked. Now he is hitting .487 for the Carp with three doubles and two homeruns. Kikuchi is noted more for his glove than his bat. If he can do both the Carp will have an All Star. Expect these numbers to drop as the season progresses.

Zealous Wheeler (Yomiuri Giants) - He was acquired from the Rakuten Eagles, who were disappointed in his offense. The Giants signed Justin Smoak and Eric Thames as foreign bats this year, so they had their doubts as well. Quarantine has created a late start for Thames and Smoak, giving Wheeler an opportunity to prove himself. He is hitting .452 with five doubles and one homerun.

Shugo Maki (Yokohama Bay Stars) - The Bay Stars won their first game yesterday. You can’t blame the rookie bat of the 22 year old who will turn 23 this month. In his first year in the NPB he is hitting .405 with one homerun and 10 RBIs. That RBI total is the most in the Central League.

Jerry Sands (Hanshin Tigers) - His bat has cooled off a bit, but coming from Korea has not soaked his power. In his second season with the Tigers he hit three homeruns early in the season. Japanese pitchers seem to fear him, walking him seven times for a .444 OBA. Only the two players named above have a slugging average higher than Sands .704. The nine RBIs put him second in the Central League.

Joe Gunkel (Hanshin Tigers) - Gunkel only saw the minor leagues in the United States. The Tigers liked him and signed him for their bullpen for the 2020 season. It appears he has made the rotation this year and in his two Sunday starts he has won both, giving up just one earned run for a 0.73 ERA.

Ryoji Kuribayashi (Hiroshima Carp) - Another rookie off to a fast start. In his first NPB season Ryoji has been entrusted to the closer role. He has already picked up three saves in five appearances, only allowing one hit in his five innings of work. He has struck out seven of the 16 hitters who have faced him.

Pacific League

Eigoro Mogi (Rakuten Eagles) - Rakuten fans have been waiting for him to have a break out year. Perhaps the 2021 season will be that year. He is hitting .423 with two homeruns and 8 RBIs. He is slugging .731 and his 10 walks have given him an OBA of .583.

Shogo Nakamura (Chiba Lotte Marines) - This is his seventh season with Lotte. His numbers have been indicative of a fourth outfielder, but he starts for Lotte. Shogo inflated his offensive numbers in two games where the team combined for 32 runs. Shogo was 5 for 7 with three walks and four RBIs in those two games. That brought his average up to a Pacific League leading .433 average with 9 RBIs. Shogo drove in eight of his nine runs in a three game span.

Hiroya Miyagi (Orix Buffaloes) - Hiroya only pitched in three games last year. So this is considered his rookie season. Miyagi was a first round pick of the Buffaloes, but only after they had lost out to two other players they wanted to the draft lottery. Now they are glad to have him. Hiroya has started two games and won both, half of the Buffaloe wins this season, giving up only one earned run for a 0.60. He struck out 13 in 15 innings.

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