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Yomiuri snags giant infielder

by Jim Allen (Oct 31, 2008)

Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara has his hands full these days, but getting his first choice in the amateur draft appeared to lighten his load considerably.

Hara won a draft-day lottery for the first time, winning the negotiating rights to power-hitting infielder Taishi Ota of his alma mater, Tokaidai Sagami High School.

"He's a player with endless possibilities," said Hara, who appeared ready to do a dance after picking the winning lot in a two-way contest with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

Hara, who will manage the Central League champion Giants in the Japan Series starting Saturday, was this week named to manage Japan's team for next spring's World Baseball Classic.

The 1.88-meter, 90-kilogram Ota, who hit 65 home runs in his high school career, may develop into a pro shortstop despite his size.

The lottery success was Hara's first in six tries, while new Hawks skipper Koji Akiyama had to settle for second best, in his case, Kinki University pitcher Shingo Tatsumi.

"It was my first draft, and I was nervous," said Akiyama, who was himself overlooked in the draft out of high school, before turning pro as an amateur free agent and hitting 437 home runs.

"I think it might have been because young Ota's desire to join them [the Giants] was so strong. Anyway, we need starting pitching and I expect Tatsumi to be able to fill that role."

There were four lotteries, with the Chunichi Dragons winning the rights to corporate league outfielder Kei Nomoto in a lottery with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The Yokohama BayStars won the rights to Waseda University outfielder Keijiro Matsumoto in a lottery with the Hanshin Tigers.

The Tigers quickly fell to 0-2 on draft day when they chose the same alternate pick as the Eagles, who drew the rights to corporate league right-hander Hiromichi Fujiwara.

The Tigers ended up with Taiwan-born right-hander Lin Yi-chieh from Nara Sangyo University. A team statement touted Lin's stamina, giving an account of Lin throwing 331 pitches in extra-inning games on consecutive days in the university championship.

The second round had nearly as much drama as the first, when the Chiba Lotte Marines opted for slugging outfielder Hisayoshi Chono, who two years ago spurned the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in his desire to play only for the Giants.

"He's 24 years old," Valentine said. "He looks like a baseball player to me. He wants to be a baseball player. We'll give him that chance."

Valentine gave a similar chance in the first round to 1.90-meter lefty Yuta Kimura, who had also spurned the BayStars after they drafted him in 2006.

Kimura rejected the pleas of the BayStars that winter out of his desire to join the Marines--although Valentine urged the lefty to join Yokohama at the time.

A few months later, Kimura admitted accepting payoffs from the Seibu Lions while he was an amateur and was suspended from his corporate league team for a year.

"We wanted to sign him for a couple of years,"Valentine said.

"I think he'll have a little deception on some of the hitters in Japan. I like his fastball. Taking a year off hurt his fastball a little, but I like his breaking balls."

The Marines skipper said Chono would have been Lotte's alternate pick in the first round if he had lost a lottery for Kimura.

"I was really surprised he [Chono] was still around in the second round," Valentine said. "He's a really good player."

Asked about Chono's Giant ambition, Valentine said the Central League club had had its chance to select him.

"They could have taken him in the first round," Valentine said. "Besides, this a draft. It's for the teams to select, not for the players to select."

One name noticeably missing from the draft-day hoopla was Eneos right-hander Junichi Tazawa, who had asked Japanese teams not to draft him as he intends to sign with a major league team.

In other baseball news:

--Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, a member of Japan's World Baseball Classic-winning team in 2006, reportedly told Japan team adviser Sadaharu Oh that he would play in the 2009 tournament.

Suzuki had expressed frustration over the process for filling the manager's job, which went to Yomiuri skipper Tatsunori Hara. Oh was the manager of the 2006 team.


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