2017 NPB Draft: Who You Should Follow Next Season – and Beyond

Editor’s Note: Today we’re pleased to welcome Dean Steinman as a contributor at 2080 Baseball. Based in Japan, Dean will be offering his insights into the Nippon Professional Baseball League. Steinman is the Co-Founder and CEO of Spraycharts, a baseball analytics company giving teams and players access to custom scouting reports through mobile applications. He has also spent the last four years as a writer and editor for The Spectator. Today he leads off his coverage with a look at four recently drafted NPB players to watch heading into the 2018 season. We’re happy to have him aboard. – Mark A. Shreve, Editor

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The NPB Draft was held on October 26, 2017. Here’s my thoughts on four players who, in addition to having made noise around the country at high school, collegiate, and semi-pro levels, present physical traits that should make them impact players in the NPB.

Kotaro Kiyomiya
Position: 1B
DOB: 5/5/1999 (18y, 5m)
Ht: 6’0″ / 184cm
Wt: 223lbs / 101kg
B/T: L/R

Acquisition Period: 1st Round, 2017 NPB Draft
Team: Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

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It comes to no surprise that Kiyomiya – the former Waseda High School first baseman and captain of Samurai Japan’s U-18 National team – was the favorite to be the top choice for many teams in this year’s NPB Draft. Kiyomiya has been a topic of conversation since the 2012 Little League World Series, where at the age of 13 he employed an 80 mph fastball to lead Team Japan to a 12-2 LLWS championship win over Goodlettsville (TN). He’s since shifted his focus to hitting for power, having hit 111 home runs over three seasons in high school, an unofficial Japanese High School record. With a skillset that matches up similarly with Shinnosuke Abe, the longtime power-hitting catcher for the Yomiuri Giants (2001-present), the Fighters were willing to overlook his lack of speed and limited defensive abilities, and plan to plug him in at first base and make use of his strengths as a traditional left-handed number-four hitter.

Daiki Tajima
Position: LHP
DOB: 8/3/1996 (21y, 2m)
Ht: 6’0″ / 182cm
Wt: 170lbs / 77kg
B/T: L/L

Acquisition Period: 1st Round, 2017 NPB Draft
Team: Orix Buffaloes

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A left-hander out of Japan’s Industrial Leagues, Tajima could have highest ceiling of any draft-eligible prospect in 2017. His impressive rotational flexibility (he can actually make his elbows touch behind his back) and a ¾’s arm slot enables his fastball to top out at 94 mph, and sit in the 91-to-92 mph range. Tajima’s no stranger to winning at high levels of competition, either, having earned MVP honors after leading Team Japan to a 2017 BFA Asian Championship. He does rely heavily on his fastball, however, and needs to see more development out of his hard slider or his tumbling changeup to keep hitters off balance and have a realistic chance to be a top-tier rotation piece for Orix. Of the secondaries add some polish, and the fastball control keeps developing, he could turn him into a viable MLB prospect down the road.


Shosei Nakamura
Position: C
DoB: 6/6/1999 (18y, 4m)
Height: 5’11″ / 181cm/
Weight: 171 lbs / 78 kg
B/T: R/R

Acquisition Period: 1st Round, 2017 NPB Draft
Team: Hiroshima Toyo Carp

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The highest rated catcher in this year’s draft is Nakamura, whose strengths span across both defense (~1.9 second pop time) and offense power attributes. Nakamura became a household name when he broke several Koshien tournament home run and RBI records en route to an appearance in the 2017 Summer Finals. Though showing flashes of patience at the plate, his bat has since cooled down considerably, as he went 3 for 25 (.120) in the U-18 Baseball World Cup this September. With a well-defined leg kick and a load that has the bat wrapping around his head, Nakamura’s form and hitting mechanics are comparable to Yomiuri Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto (2007-present). Sakamoto was originally listed at 6-foot-1 and 171 pounds when he first entered the league but has since gained 10-to-15 pounds of muscle – expect Nakamura to fill out similarly over time.


Masaki Iwami
Position: OF
Age: 7/10/1994 (23y, 3m)
Ht: 6’2″ / 187cm
Wt: 240lbs / 109 kg
B/T: R/R

Acquisition Period: 2nd Round, 7th pick, 2017 NPB Draft
Team: Tohoku Rakuten Eagles

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Iwami leads the Tokyo Big 6 League with 21 home runs, three times more than the number two player on the list, and presents an immediate 60-grade hit tool for NPB teams across the board. Though his career .296 average and 1.080 OPS might indicate a solid bat, Iwami’s poor run tool prohibits him from taking an extra base other than home runs – he hasn’t recorded a double or triple since Fall of 2016. The lack of speed will ultimately plant him on a corner spot. His stocky frame and compact swing draw comparisons to Pablo Sandoval (3B, Giants) and Rakuten, a team in need of an offensive boost, was able to snatch him in the second round. Those on the Iwami hype train should be fully aware of his age; at 23 years old, he poses a visible physical advantage over the rest of the college baseball league he currently plays in.