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01/19/2004 Archived Entry: "Japanese Baseball News: Up to Five MLB Teams Interested in High Schooler Darvish"

Angels, Mets Seeking Some Iranian-Japanese Takeaway

According to Hochi Sports, the Dodgers, Mets and Angels are trying to sign big Tohoku High School righthander Yu Darvish, who will go in the first round of the 2004 November pro draft. The paper quotes an unnamed MLB scouting official as offering that "he has a good body and has the tools to really develop into something. He's a diamond in the rough."

Moreover, both the Angels and Braves have been tracking Darvish since he played in Boys League in junior high and San Diego is mulling sending somebody to see him as well.

The competition for the 6'4" 175 pound Iranian-Japanese 17 year old's services is already intense, with at least five Japanese nines hoping to reel him in, Hiroshima, Nippon Ham, Chunichi, Daiei and Orix. In addition, it is thought that Hanshin could jump into this as well.

Darvish has been clocked as high as 92mph and features a good sinker, slider, changeup, and knuckle curve ball. He had some back trouble last year that hindered his performance at the summer Koshien Tournament, but there hasen't been any indication that the backaches have persisted. Darvish can sign with an MLB team at anytime since he is older than 16, but since he is his team's captain, it is thought that he will wait until he graduates before he might make any decision.

From a marketing standpoint, Anaheim could gain substantially if Darvish prospers under their tutelage. Orange County, especially Garden Grove, has a big Persian community in addition to its sizable contingent of Asian-Americans. His father, a former Iranian national soccer team member, met his Japanese wife in the U.S. and they have lived near Osaka since wedding. Consequently, the human interest angle would be another selling point.

Team Reports

Hanshin Number two draft choice Kazuya Tsutsui and second year pitcher Tomoyuki Kubota will open spring training in the club's minor league camp....Saturday, number one draftee Takashi Toritani was clocked in a blazing 5.75 in the 50 meters. In earlier scouting reports, it was said that he had put up a slightly above average 6.0. The time surprised Toritani himself and makes him .04 seconds faster than three time steals king Norihiro Akahoshi. Kazuo Matsui's best time was reportedly 5.8 seconds.

ChunichiManager Hiromitsu Ochiai, speaking before a crowd of 1800 at a 50th anniversary dinner for Chunichi Sports, told the throng that he doesn't want to be thrown in the air as is customary when a manager guides a team to a pennant. He said if it has to happen, that they should first do it to the team's owner. He also posited that pitching is 80% of a ballgame and that an arm-short hitting-rich team like Kintetsu makes for a dull time for spectators....Shortstop Hirokazu Ibata faced off against former Hiroshima great Yutaka Ono in a special event for the Japanese Masters League, a league for retired pros. Ono apparently still has some filthy stuff, since he sawed Ibata off at the label. "He can still pitch in the pros if he wants," said Ibata of Ono, who has spent the last several seasons in the broadcast booth before becoming the pitching coach of the Japanese national baseball team.

Yomiuri According to Sports Nippon, the Giants' Japanese players are griping about first baseman Roberto Petagine and leftfielder Tuffy Rhodes being allowed to skip the team's weeklong training session in Guam. In addition, young righthander Hiroki Sanada and utilitymen Koji Goto and Daisuke Motoki won't be along for the trip, either and both men feel leftout. Goto told the sports daily that he hasn't heard anything as to why he is remaining home. An unnamed "frontline player" grumbled, "why is {Hiroki] Kokubo made to go even though he is rehabbing from knee surgery while Motoki wasn't permitted to go? That is really weird." Another unspecified starting player had similar thoughts, questioning why Kazuhiro Kiyohara, who recently dyed his hair silver, will be in Guam and Petagine won't. However, it should be said that new manager Tsuneo Horiuchi may leave Kiyohara back, too. In any event, Horiuchi is being faulted for not communicating adequately with his charges....More than 5,000 fans came out on a sunny day out for an event held at the Yomiuri Land amusement park in Tokyo Sunday featuring Horiuchi, Kiyohara pitcher Masumi Kuwata and 15 other players. The turnout was the lowest ever for that celebration and underscores how badly damaged the team has been by both their humiliating 2003 campaign as well as the tumultuous offseason lowlighted by the Tsuneo Watanabe-Takashi Toritani mess and the Tatsunori Hara firing fiasco....Ace Koji Uehara threw batting practice Sunday in a 176 pitch stint at about half speed.

Yakult Just like he did last season, third baseman Akinori Iwamura is hoping to post a .300, 30 homer, 30 steals campaign. Last spring, Iwamura was using a 45 ounce bat in workouts in a bid to strengthen his wrists, but he ended up instead with injured wrist ligaments and missed a substantial portion of the campaign. This time, he revealed that he has been watching how Hanshin centerfielder Norihiro Akahoshi gets good jumps on the basepaths and has been picking leftfielder Alex Ramirez on getting the bat through the zone efficiently. He will also go to a slightly lighter bat.

Daiei Team officials will meet again with first baseman Nobuhiko Matsunaka on January 28th. The two sides are about $190,000 apart in salary, with Matsunaka seeking to be boosted from 160 million yen to 320 million yen. The Hawks have offered the 2004 RBI leader 300 million (about $2.85 million).

Seibu Ace Daisuke Matsuzaka spent his Sunday at a training center for bicycle racers in a quest to strengthen his legs. He even ate lunch with the cyclists, the menu consisting of vegetables and fish. Last year, Hanshin utility man Shuta Tanaka and pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa worked out at the same center....Manager Tsutomu Itoh is mulling forming a Little League team that will be oriented toward developing pro players. His older brother Osamu runs a youth squad, but Itoh hopes that the pro attitude will divert youngsters toward baseball and away from soccer. Former Yakult and Hanshin skipper Katsuya Nomura and ex-Seibu boss Osamu Higashio sponsored baseball teams for youngsters in the past.

Lotte The Denver Post is reporting that Turk Wendell was offered $2 million to pitch for Lotte this coming season. In this writer's opinion, that would have been money ill spent. Instead, he took a non-guarenteed deal with Colorado....First baseman Kazuya Fukuura said that he will concentrate just on hitting the ball hard this season and leave the longball heroics to import Seung-yeop Lee. The former PL batting champ spent the day tutoring about 100 elementary and junior high school age kids in the finer points of baseball.

Nippon Ham Number one draft choice Itoi will start the spring in the team's minor league camp.

Orix Reliever Kazuo Yamaguchi has dropped 20 pounds to 202 pounds thanks to a diet and exercise regimen. The fireballer missed all of last season due to elbow surgery. Manager Haruki Ihara hopes that Yamaguchi will be able to close during the coming campaign.

Miscellaneous The Denver Post's Mark Klis had a bit about intentional walks last season. Ichiro Suzuki's were down from 27 in 2002 to just seven in 2003. However, he also noted that much more brawny slugger Magglio Ordonez was allowed to take first just once with no hassle. So go figure....Kazuo Matsui arrived at Kennedy Airport Sunday. He will be in New York for two weeks and will take part in a fan-oriented event before heading to Florida to get ready for spring training. Just a note to you Yankee fans, Little Matsui is a slow starter. So give him a month before you start in with the booing, okay?...Meiji University pitcher Yasuhiro Ichiba, who is being pursued by five teams, says that he wants to reach 157km/h (about 98mph) before graduating. The college record is 156km/h by Nagisa Arakaki, who is now with Daiei. To that end, he is doing a lot of leg work to get more explosion toward the plate....Pitcher Rocky Biddle, who was being looked at by at least a couple of Japanese teams, signed a new deal with Montreal.

Valentine: Japanese Baseball Improving

See story at: Yomiuri Shimbun Article

Kazuo Matsui Ready

See story at: Hindustan Daily Times Article

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