Koshien Round OneThe 79th Edition of the Koshien Spring High School Baseball Tournament is underway, and we've just completed the first round. I had hoped to write up a tournament preview, but simply have been too busy to get to it. This year is a new beginning of sorts. The Komadai Tomakomai team from Hokkaido, which had dominated the sport for 3 years running, has graduated a number of its most important players, including ace pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Waseda Jitsugyo, the school which dominated the 2006 season behind current Waseda University starter Yuki Saito, is also noticeably absent from the competition. Being that this is Koshien, there are always fresh new faces and potential heroes to pick out and follow. To that end, I selected a list of 5 schools and their star players to watch and cheer on. Here is that list:
1. Osaka Toin (Sho Nakata - OF/RHP, 6'0" 207 pounds )
Osaka Toin beat up on Nihon Bunri High 7-0 behind Sho Nakata's no hitter for 6.2 innings. He gave up one hit and then sat down after 7 innings and 114 pitches.
Mets' scout Isao Ojimi calls him the best prospect in Asia and the Cubs and Twins both feel he can be a Major Leaguer in a few years. The NPB teams are hoping he stays put and falls to them in the draft next year. That's the good part. The rough part is that he also walked 7 hitters and blasted a hitter in the midsection in the first inning as he was squaring to bunt. That man was promptly picked off first. Who can blame him? It was the first time I'd seen Nakata pitch and I must say I was not that impressed.
He hit 88 on the gun and looked a bit like a stocky right fielder with a little pitching ability. His frame on the mound reminded me a little of the Orioles Jaret Wright. If he were to continue pitching down the road, I think he'd only have a reasonable career as a reliever. Just my opinion after one start. He also went 0-3 with an RBI ground out in the first, and was hit by a pitch himself.
2. Sendai Ikuei (Yoshinori Sato - RHP, 5'10" 157 pounds)
All eyes have been on Yoshinori Sato for some time now, and the Sendai ace was out to make a run at a championship this Spring. The tournament started against little regarded Tokoha Gakuen Kikugawa High. Despite hitting 93mph on the radar and showing stellar command in striking out 14, the Ikuei offense never got it going and the boys from Tohoku were sent home 2-1 on the first day. We'll be sure to watch for Sato's revenge this Summer at the big event in August. He'll need to build a little better size to do anything at the next level, but the tools are there.
3. Narita (Yuki Karakawa - RHP, 5'11" 172 pounds)
Karakawa was a hard luck loser in 12 innings versus Hiroshima's Koryo High School, 2-1. It really wasn't his day, however, as he gave up 13 hits, 2 walks, and 3 hit batsmen while striking out only 4. At Koshien you're very lucky if you can survive that kind of shaky outing, and the ace of Narita High almost did just that. Almost. Koryo's coach ran himself out of two prime scoring opportunities in this game as he tried the suicide squeeze to no avail. In both attempts, his batters were not able to make contact with the pitch and cost the team a runner on 3rd. You MUST make contact if that's your strategy. In the end, Koryo won despite itself and we will have to wonder if a better second outing was in the cards for the senior righty. Summer.
4. Teikyo (Atori Ota - RHP, 6'1", 200 pounds)
Atori Ota is a force of nature. This was my first look at this exciting young player and I have to say WOW!!! He has size, excellent mound presence, and a ridiculous array of pitches. I suppose it's not the variety that impressed me as much as it was his ability to use the fastball anywhere in the zone, and hit the black at will. When he used his fork or change it was truly, truly unfair. This is the best young pitcher outside Darvish and Saito.
Ogi High School fell to Teikyo 9-1 (the one run was unearned) and had zero chance from the start. Ogi is a small program, but when a 6'1", 200 pound high school senior goes out and deals 20 strikeouts with only 4 hits and a walk over 9 complete, you have to tip your cap. The 20 Ks was one away from the all time Koshien record. He's got great size as you can see, and he's ready for the next level now. I may have to start an Atori Ota Watch soon. Yes, he's that good.
5. Hotoku Gakuen (Reo Chikada - LHP, 5'9" 185 pounds)
Hotoku Gakuen found itseld upset by no name Muroto High, 2-1. Hotoku Junior lefty Reo Chikada was on the mound and looked a bit immature to me. He has an immature physical frame, despite a promising lower body, and attitude to match. He smiled a lot and stuck out his tongue each time he surrendered a hit or walk. His mound presence was poor, and I think he needs to grow up a lot before he's a legitimate pitcher. He'll be a pro in 2008, but he needs work. Nevertheless, he struck out nine and worked a shutout through 6 before coughing up two in the 7th inning. That was all she wrote, as his teammates couldn't generate any offense against a very impressive and gutsy Morisawa of Muroto. I have to cheer for Morisawa after watching his passion for the game. Good story. Too bad for Chikada.
That's the main scoop from Koshien's 1st Round. I'll do my best to keep you posted on the next round and particularly the Nakata and Ota updates to follow. Stay Tuned!!!