Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fall Baseball

The Fall campaign is underway in the Tokyo Big 6 League, and Yuki Saito became the first freshman in 80 years to start both the Spring and Fall openers. That's quite a feat for a young man, but we've come to expect these things from Saito, haven't we.

The US-Japan University exhibition was a big success for the Japanese team, but in some ways was quite a humbling experience for our man. It was apparent that Saito's fastball wasn't ready for prime time in the United States, and a lot more work both physically and mentally must be done before Saito can be considered a Major League prospect. That said, his tender age and his excellent mental ability have him on the right track, and the opener against lowly Tokyo University would prove to be the right medicine for him as he took the mound on the 8th.

The freshman was as advertised again for Waseda as the club powered to a 9-1 victory behind the power of senior outfielder Yukinaga Tanaka and the arm of Yuki Saito. Tanaka went 3 for 5 with a two run homer and a double for a total of 4 RBIs on the day. Saito was brilliant, working 7 innings on 98 pitches. He struck out 8 against a single walk and dominated the entire contest. Waseda is looking to repeat as Tokyo Big 6 champions, and I see little in the way of the club doing so. More soon.....

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Back Soon

Hello Yuki Saito fans.

I'm in the midst of a transition from Japan to the US now and I've been caught without the time to update here for a while. Once things settle down in the next few days, I'll post an update and a recap of all the pertinent news related to our hero.

Thanks for your patience and come back soon as I resume wall to wall coverage.

Mike Plugh

Monday, July 23, 2007

Hectic Days

Hello YSW readers (that means you mom)....

I'm in the midst of some big changes these days. I'm setting up life between the US and Japan right now and it's a major undertaking. Those who keep living space on both the East and West Coasts of the United States are generally referred to as "bi-coastal" although I'm not sure what nomenclature would be chosen for my situation.

At any rate, I will be headed back to the friendly confines of New York City in early August, keeping a place in Akita City. During the next 2-3 weeks I'm afraid my blogging will be inconsistent, although I should be able to find enough access to both baseball and the internet to update here often. If I end up AWOL for several days without an update, rest assured that I will be back into the full swing of things by the 2nd week of August as a full time blogging maniac again.

Thanks for your patience and for always supporting what I do here. Keep checking back!!

Mike Plugh

Saturday, July 07, 2007

International Man of Mystery

So it's in the books. Yuki Saito has remained unbeaten in his last 20-something starts dating back to his senior year in high school. The Japanese sensation didn't bring his A-game to Durham, but it was still enough to put the Japanese collegians on the verge of their first series win on US soil in 19 meetings. After the WBC victory, Japan will be on a high if the young fellas can repeat their success in North Carolina.

Before talking about this contest, it's a good idea to look back at what's transpired in the two prior games. The first game saw the US come out strong, winning 7-2 behind Pedro Alvarez' red hot bat. Shota Oba wasn't able to put together a very good start to the game and allowed the US to jump all over him for a big 5 run inning. That was all she wrote. The Japanese club likes to play small ball and it's highly unlikely that they will pull off a comeback from multiple runs. Ahead by five, the US effectively ended the game early, despite some very nice pitching by Tomoyuki Kaida. The next day featured Keio University ace, Mikinori Kato against Brian Matusz. The Japanese pulled off a tight 3-2 victory despite giving away 6 outs on 4 caught stealing and 2 sac bunts. Kato outdueled Matusz before handing it over to the very promising freshman power pitcher Shinya Muramatsu. Muramatsu struck out three in 2.1 innings and looked dominant in doing so.

That brings us to Saito. Game Three was highly anticipated and fans from all parts collected to get a glimpse of the now famous young hurler. The buzz around Daisuke Matsuzaka generates a greater appeal for Yuki Saito and it was evident in the media coverage from both countries. Saito showed poor command of his pitches throughout the contest, frequently falling behind hitters, and also seemed to have lost some velocity on his array of pitches. He frequently had the gun in the high 70s and mid-80s during the game and nothing looked "plus" for the most part. To his credit, Saito has always been businesslike on the mound and never lost his cool. He was noticably bothered when runners were on base, however, and looked a bit out of character on occasion. Nevertheless, the pitching line looks very good considering all the factors in throwing off his regular routine. He earned the 2-1 win thanks to outstanding relief in innings 7-9, capped by another dominating Muramatsu outing. Muramatsu struck out three in an inning and a third. Impressive.

Yuki Saito Watch got a little boost thanks to the good people at NBC17 in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill. Their link has driven many of you here. Please stick around to browse the background of this fine young pitcher. A comprehensive look at his background is found in the right margin, listed under "Biography". Thanks for reading.

Finally, for those of you interested in watching these games, live or otherwise, you can head to the USA Baseball homepage and check out the link to "schedule". The games are available on live webcast, and presumably will be available in recorded for as well. Here's Saito's game. Stay Tuned.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Welcome to America

July 4th kicks off the 36th edition of the US/Japan Collegiate Baseball Games. The team of talented young Japanese players has arrived in the US and commenced training in South Carolina prior to the official contest, held in Durham, NC. There are 5 games altogether, and we should get a look at a variety of outstanding players from both sides of the world. Of course, the most heralded player among this group is our own Yuki Saito, who figures to be the Game One starter on July 4th.

My latest Baseball Prospectus article gives a complete rundown of the players on the Japanese roster, including a brief scouting report. It's subscription only, so you'll have to invest a little of your hard earned cash to get the full details, but I promise it's worth it if you love to read about baseball. I'll give you the rosters of both teams here, as available via normal means of information gathering and throw in a sprinkle of extra information on several of the key Japanese players. First, Team USA:

2007 USA Baseball National Team: Roster

25 Alvarez, PedroIFL/R6-2212So.VanderbiltNew York, NY
28 Berry, RyanRHPR/R6-1195Fr.RiceHumble, TX
15 Danks, JordanOFL/R6-5205So.TexasRound Rock, TX
8 Espinosa, DannyIFS/R6-0185So.Long Beach StateSanta Ana, CA
5 Flaherty, RyanUTL/R6-3200So.VanderbiltPortland, ME
11 Forsythe, LoganIF/OFR/R6-0195So.ArkansasMemphis, TN
29 Hamilton, JeremyIFL/L6-0180So.Wright StateCincinnati, OH
14 Hunter, BrettRHPR/R6-2190So.PepperdineMoorpark, CA
36 Kelly, JoeRHPR/R6-1165Fr.UC RiversideCorona, CA
6 Kieschnick, RogerOFL/R6-3200So.Texas TechRockwall, TX
40 Lynn, LanceRHPR/R6-5260So.MississippiBrownsburg, IN
17 Matusz, BrianLHPL/L6-4180So.San DiegoCave Creek, AZ
18 Medica, TommyCR/R6-1190Fr.Santa ClaraSan Jose, CA
9 Mercer, JordyRHP/IFR/R6-3192So.Oklahoma StateTaloga, OK
37 Minor, MikeLHPL/L6-3175Fr.VanderbiltChapel Hill, TN
35 Paramore, PeteyCS/R6-2195So.Arizona StateAllen, TX
4Romanski, JoshLHP/OFL/L6-0180So.San DiegoCorona, CA
44 Ross, TysonRHPR/R6-5215So.CaliforniaOakland, CA
7 Satterwhite, CodyRHPR/R6-4205So.MississippiJackson, MS
10 Smoak, JustinIFS/L6-3200So.South CarolinaGoose Creek, SC
24 Thompson, JacobRHPR/R6-6190So.VirginiaDanville, VA
34 Wallace, BrettIFL/R6-1245So.Arizona StateSonoma, CA

Coaching Staff
26Mike WeathersField ManagerLong Beach State
16Rob CooperAssistant/First Base CoachWright State
27Bill KinnebergAssistant/Pitching CoachUtah
3Mark ScalfAssistant/Third Base CoachUNC-Wilmington

This is a very talented group of ballplayers. Many current Major Leaguers have played in this series of games in the past and you'll be getting a very good look at some of the future stars by checking in on these games. The same can be said of the Japanese group. The NPB will welcome a handful of the graduating seniors on the Japanese roster, and several of the underclassmen sure to be drafted in the near future. Yuki Saito may be one of a very small handful to attempt a jump directly to the Majors, so here's your chance to get a very early look at what he brings to the table. Tell your friends that you saw the next Daisuke Matsuzaka way back when...
2007 Japan Collegiate All-Stars: Roster

28Mikinori KATOPL/L5-10167SeniorKEIO UNIVERISTY

Coaching Staff
50Masao KAWARAIHead Coach
51Noritsugu MATSUOKAAssistant Coach
52Atsuyoshi OHTAKEAssistant Coach
53Tetsuo YAMAJIAssistant Coach

A few of the players to watch, outside Saito, are as follows:
Shota Oba (Toyo University) - Pro Comparison: Kazumi Saito
Shingo Tatsumi (Kinki University) - Tall, lanky righty threw a no-hitter this season
Shinya Muramatsu (Kokugakuin University) - Powerful freshman with huge potential

Takeshi Hosoyamada (Waseda University) - Saito's catcher has MLB potential
Tetsuya Kokubo (Aoyama Gakuin U.) - Best infielder in 2007 draft, Japanese Pedroia?
Sho Aranami (Tokai University) - speedy CF lost to Saito in University Finals
Takahiro Iwamoto (Asia University) - power hitter, but may not hit for avg.

All of these players have the potential to impact the outcome of the series, but I picked a few I thought you might like to watch. Ultimately, any of the roster guys could be a hero (or a goat). You'll have to watch to see for yourself. One housekeeping note....

The Japanese players had a tune up exhibition against the Columbia Blowfish of Columbia, SC after arriving. A combination of Shota Oba and Mikinori Kato kept the Blowfish hitless through 5 innings, until Yuki Saito arrived on the scene for the 6th. Saito didn't seem right prior to the game, sweating and looking pale, and it showed in the results. He coughed up a 3-0 lead allowing a leadoff walk, a double, and two RBI singles. He pitched two innings and gave up 4 runs. In the end, Saito was saved a loss by his teammates, as they managed to scratch a run to tie it in front of 100 credentialed media, there primarily to watch our boy. It was one of the B-quality starters on the roster that lost the game, as Ryo Sakakibara of Kansai International University allowed a 3-run, walk off homer to Greg Phelps to end the exhibition. Let's hope we see the real Yuki Saito on Independence Day....

Sunday, June 17, 2007

All Japan University Champions

Yuki Saito and company have done it!!! After qualifying for the 56th All Japan University Championship Tournament by winning the Tokyo Big 6 League, the boys from Waseda entered a field of big time programs vying for the crown of all university crowns. Here's a rundown of the games.
June 14th vs. Kyushu International University

In a game that was supposed to be a lopsided win for the Waseda boys, Kyushu International made a serious run at eliminating Saito's bunch early. Waseda couldn't mount an effective rally against any of three Kyushu pitchers, managing to only scratch across 2 runs heading into the 9th. Kyushu would bat last, and got starting pitcher Matsushita into some trouble, scoring a run and putting runners on first and second with two outs. The home club sent up a pinch hitter, and manager Ota went to the pen for the final out. He brought in Saito to mop up the last out. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but Saito gave up a ringing line drive that bounced in front of the left field wall. The runner came around to the plate and was promptly gunned down, ending the game. Saito looked stunned, worried, and then delighted. Waseda survived the first day.
June 15th vs. Kansai International University

On this afternoon, Waseda chose to start Sudata against Kansai International. Sudata was often the choice of manager Ota to precede Saito as a more experienced pitcher. The Waseda lineup was fierce, scoring 5 runs in the second and 4 more in the third to stake their starter to a big lead. With one out in the fifth Sudata got into trouble and was removed after allowing 2 runs to Kansai. Another run was surrendered by the pen in that frame, but that was all she wrote as Waseda sealed the 16-3 victory with a 7 run rally in the top of the 9th. No Saito, but then again, no need.
June 16th vs. Soka University

Yuki Saito took the hill in a very big moment for the freshman ace. Soka University stood in the way of a berth in the championship game and the pressure was on. Saito coughed up a run in the 1st, but looked very cool in escaping any further damage. His Waseda boys helped pick him up with 6 huge runs in an extended bottom of the first that virtually locked up the game. Waseda would score 4 more runs in the course of the contest, but it was hardly necessary as Saito went 5 complete on 82 pitches, allowing 2 hits and 3 walks while striking out 6. Matsushita and Sudata nailed down the remainder of the game and Waseda was in the big final against Tokai University.

June 17th vs. Tokai University

Saito would once again get the starting nod for Waseda, a sure sign that he is the man in charge of the rotation from now on. The pressure would be on, but it couldn't be anything like the highly charged two days in the Koshien Final less than a year ago. Waseda got on the board in the 1st with a single run, before Saito even took the hill. Certainly, that had to be a relief as the young ace worked his magic for 5.2 innings before surrendering a single run to Tokai. Waseda had scratched across two more runs for Saito, so the lead appeared fairly safe at 3-1. At 102 pitches near the end of the 6th, manager Ota came out to relieve Saito and replace him with Matsushita to finish off the title. That he did with 3.1 innings of scoreless relief. Saito's final line: 5.2 IP, 7 hits, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts, 1 ER.

The title lives with Waseda, and Saito will next head to the US to pitch in the US/Japan University Games. Workouts will begin very soon, so there's no rest for the weary. It will be interesting to see him pitch against American university athletes. His final line for the 56th All Japan University Games was:

11 IP, 10 hits, 5 walks, 12 Ks, 2 ER, 1.63 ERA, 1.364 WHIP, 9.82 K/9

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Update: June 9th

A little housekeeping to do here, as I haven't kept up my blogging at Yuki Saito Watch very well in about a month. Here's what needs saying about his Tokyo Big 6 League pitching:

1. Waseda's practice of never announcing their starter is a joke. It's the way things are done in Japan, as if the element of secrecy regarding the next day's starter will somehow give them the edge they need to win. First, that is a dusty old myth that has been long since put to bed in the US, and is even a waning practice in the slow to change NPB. It's simply a disservice to fans in an age of information that allows us to enjoy a myriad of events at a level of understanding previously unknown to mankind. 30,000+ fans look to attend games that Yuki Saito is pitching. Many sleep outside on the sidewalk overnight to get to the ticket window. That is good for college baseball, and I'm sure it's very lucrative for Waseda and the Tokyo Big 6 League.

The only reason there is suddenly such interest in the sport at the college level is Yuki Saito. His fans want to see him. Instead of providing the newfound fans with a simple heads up that he will be pitching, the team leaves it shrouded in mystery to sell more tickets and fill the stands every game. There are plenty of people who will sleep out overnight to buy tickets, hoping to see Saito, who never actually see him. They buy tickets to the game only to find out that he will start the next afternoon.....or not at all. Yes, it's their risk. No one told them to sleep on the street. The problem is, popularity is a fleeting thing. Once Saito is gone, so is your exposure. Your ratings and your gate will drop through the floor. If you treat the fans well, and highlight other players along the way, you spend the time and effort to build your brand and generate excitement. If you play games with the fans and force them to guess at when the main attraction is going to come, they will eventually walk away. I can't sit around every weekend waiting to see if Saito is pitching, while the world is passing me by. If you announce the day he's pitching a day or two early, I will set aside my afternoon. People will still sleep out on the street.

The reason Waseda is doing things this way has almost nothing to do with strategy, and everything to do with money. That's a sin in amateur athletics, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

2. Saito's Waseda boys entered the final weekend of the Spring Season undefeated in the Tokyo Big 6. The only thing standing in their way of a Spring Championship was Keio University, who needed to take all three weekend games to topple the mighty Waseda club. The first game of the weekend was thought to be Yuki Saito's start. The major sports and news outlets prepped for a Saturday game featuring the lights out freshman, only to see the dream smashed when Waseda elected to start Saito's senior, Kouta Sudata, in his stead. Sudata failed to continue the unblemished Spring record by coughing up 5 runs over the first three innings. The stage was set for the following day, and a potential Saito outing to nail things down before they got hairy.

Saito did just that, as he pitched a brilliant five innings to hold Keio in check, while his Waseda offense staked him to a 8-0 lead. The game was over before it even began, as 36,000 fans enjoyed a beautiful afternoon in West Tokyo. Saito labored in the 6th and ended up allowing 4 runs to the boys from Keio, but it was too late. He escaped with a 4 run lead, and Matsushita and Sudata mopped up to bring the title to Waseda. A parade was held in Tokyo where people clambered to catch a glimpse of the boy hero. He grinned ear to ear as he celebrated with his teammates, and made a rather entertaining speech. With a beaming crowd on hand the young ace said, "I want to start by saying that I am not as funny as my seniors. (laughter) Next week is my 19th birthday. (cheers) Winning this title was a great way to celebrate my 18th birthday. (laughter as Saito realized his mistake) Waseda will continue to win! (cheers)"

The speech was full of grammatical mistakes, as the spotlight clearly shone too brightly on the young man. He took it in stride and laughed along with the appreciative crowd at the rally. It was a brilliant moment for the teenager with the world at his fingertips. I look forward to seeing what he does for an encore in the next stage of competition, soon to come.

3. Saito pitched in 6 of Waseda's 11 contests in the Spring, starting four and closing two. Saving his worst outing for last, Yuki Saito pitched to a 0.42 ERA before giving up 4 runs in the penultimate win of the season. His final ERA was 1.65 with 25 strikeouts in 27.1 innings pitched. Click below for Saito's complete game log with ratios: