Friday, October 16, 2020

Study Abroad - Tigers On Two Continents

By 1992 most NPB teams had ended their partnerships with either Major League organizations or independent minor league teams that had resulted in young Japanese players seeing action in the North American minor leagues.  After reaching a peak of seven NPB teams sending players to minor league teams in 1989, there were only three teams doing it three years later.  The Hawks and Swallows were in their final year in Salinas, California and the Hanshin Tigers were starting a five year partnership with the Detroit Tigers that would see two Hanshin players each season playing in Detroit's farm system.

This was not Hanshin's first go around in North America.  In 1988 they had sent four players to the independent Fresno Suns of the California League.  That Fresno team was sold and moved to Salinas following the season where they started their partnership with the Hawks and Swallows which may have prevented the Tigers from also sending players to them although I have no idea if they would have wanted to.  

In 1992 the Tigers sent two 19 year old pitchers to North America - Yoshitaro Ban and Kazuharu "Kazu" Yamazaki.  They played for two different Detroit farm teams - the Niagara Falls (NY) Rapids of the Short Season Class A New York-Penn League and the Bristol (VA) Tigers of the Rookie Appalachian League.  I'm not sure which team they played with first (or even if they were both with the teams at the same time) but I suspect that they started out with Niagara Falls as they appear in the baseball card team sets for the Rapids but not for Bristol.  The Rapids were managed by former Expo, Ranger and Red Sox Larry Parrish who had finished his career with two years in Japan including his final season of 1990 with Hanshin.  Neither pitcher performed particularly well in New York - Ban went 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA and 8 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings over five games while Yamazaki went 1-1 with a 10.80 ERA and 2 strikeouts in five innings over five games.   The two did better at the lower level league in Bristol - Ban went 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings over nine games and Yamazaki went 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA and 19 strikouts in 20 innings over nine games.  In retrospect it was probably a mistake sending two teenagers to play in the New York-Penn league against mostly guys who had just been drafted out of college.  The Appalachian League was mostly high school draftees and more in line with the development level of the Hanshin players.

The two pitchers Hanshin sent to the US in 1993 were both a little older than Ban and Yamazaki.  Yasutaka Furusato was 22 and had made 17 appearances with the ichi-gun Hanshin team in 1991 and 1992 while Shinya Nakagawa was 21.  Despite their age, Detroit assigned the players to Bristol.  Nakagawa pitched pretty well, going 2-2 with a 3.34 ERA in 29 2/3 innings over 24 games.  His 40 strikeouts was tied for third on the team.  Furusato did not fare as well, going 1-1 with an 8.36 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 14 innings in 11 games.  One of their Bristol teammates, Matt Skrmetta, would go on to play in parts of two seasons in NPB - 2003 with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and 2005 with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

In 1994 Detroit once again assigned both of the Hanshin players to Bristol.  The players were a little younger than the 1993 players - Tomojiro "Tomo" Adachi  was 19 and Kazuhiko Shiotani was 20.  Shiotani was the first position player of the six players sent so far.  Neither player did very well - Adachi went 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 36 innings across 19 games while Shiotani went hitless in 14 at bats in ten games, striking out six times.

I suspect that because the Hanshin players had not performed well at Bristol (with the exception maybe of Nakagawa) in 1995 the two Tigers teams decided to send that year's two players to Detroit's Gulf Coast League team in Lakeland, Florida.  21 year old pitcher Kazuki Yonemura led the team with 49 strikeouts and went 2-4 with a 2.32 ERA and one save in 42 2/3 innings over 14 games.  20 year old catcher Daiki Katayama hit .180 with two home runs and four RBIs.  He also struck out 13 times.  His two home runs tied him with three other players for third place on the team, behind two players who each hit three.

Both players in 1996, the final year of the Hanshin-Detroit partnership, were again sent to Detroit's Gulf Coast League team in Lakeland.  Tomojiro Adachi returned for a second stint in the US and actually pitched worse than he had in 1994 despite being two years older and pitching at a lower classification.  He went 0-1 with an ERA of 8.38 and 7 strikeouts and 7 walks in 9 2/3 innings over five games.  19 year old shortstop Shuta Tanaka got into 44 games and hit .168 with no home runs in 116 at bats.

As always I have no insight into why the Two Tigers partnership ended after five years.  I suspect that Hanshin didn't feel they were really getting much out of it as none of the players really went on to greatness or even pretty goodness but that's just speculation on my part.  Here's a summary of the nine players Hanshin sent to Detroit's organization:

Player Year Team Draft NPB Career
Tomojiro Adachi 1994,1996 Bristol,Gulf Coast Tigers 1992 Tigers 1st Hanshin Tigers 1993-99
Yoshitaro Ban 1992 Niagara Falls/Bristol 1990 Tigers 6th Hanshin Tigers 1991-97
Yasutaka Furusato 1993 Bristol 1989 Tigers 4th Hanshin Tigers 1990-97
Daiki Katayama 1995 Gulf Coast Tigers 1992 Tigers 4th Hanshin Tigers 1993-2000
Shinya Nakagawa 1993 Bristol 1991 Tigers 5th Hanshin Tigers 1992-95
Kazuhiko Shiotani 1994 Bristol 1992 Tigers 6th Hanshin Tigers 1993-01, Orix BlueWave/Buffaloes 2002-05
Shuta Tanaka 1996 Gulf Coast Tigers 1994 Tigers 3rd Hanshin Tigers 1995-2009
Kazuharu Yamazaki 1992 Niagara Falls/Bristol 1990 Tigers 3rd Hanshin Tigers 1991-2000, Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes 2001-02
Kazuki Yonemura 1995 Gulf Coast Tigers 1992 Tigers 3rd Hanshin Tigers 1993-97

The six players who played for either Niagara Falls or Bristol appeared in the team sets for those teams.  As I mentioned previously Ban and Yamazaki appeared in the team sets for Niagara Falls (both the Classic Best and Fleer ProCards sets) but not Bristol in 1992.  Furusato and Nakagawa appear in the Fleer ProCards Bristol team set in 1993 but not the Classic Best one.  Adachi and Shiotani reversed this in 1994 by appearing in the Classic Best set but not the Fleer ProCards one.  I don't have any of these team sets but I've swiped the images from either the Trading Card Database or COMC.  (I could not find an image of Yamazaki's 1992 Fleer ProCards card.)  There are no card sets that I know of for the two Gulf Coast League teams.

1994 Classic Best Bristol Tigers #1

1994 BBM Tigers #T-2

Tomojiro Adachi overcame childhood cancer to be the ace pitcher for Kobe Murano Technical High School in the 1991 Summer Koshien tournament.  He was the first round pick of Hanshin in the 1992 draft although he was not their first choice - the Tigers were one of four teams that selected Hideki Matsui in the first round but they settled for Adachi after losing the lottery for Matsui to the Giants.  Despite being a high draft pick he was never able to get off Hanshin's farm team due to poor performance.  Even changing his registered name to Katsuya Adachi in 1995 and 1996 didn't help.  He switched to being an outfielder in 1998 but only hit .236 with the ni-gun team.  He switched back to the mound at the urging of new Hanshin manager Katsuya Nomura in 1999 but his performance hadn't improved much and he retired after being released by the Tigers at the end of the season.  He was a batting practice pitcher for the Tigers for a couple years after retiring and did some youth baseball coaching later.  Tragically he passed away from liver failure in 2016 at age 41.

1992 Classic Best Niagara Falls Rapids #10

1992 Fleer ProCards #3314

Yoshitaro Ban was Hanshin's sixth pick pick in the 1990 draft out of Chikuyo Gakuen High School.  He spent his entire career in Japan on Hanshin's farm team.  Probably his biggest claim to fame was holding Ichiro Suzuki hitless in a Western League game on August 8, 1993, snapping Ichiro's hitting streak at 30 games.  Like Adachi he also changed his name - he went be Yoshitaro Mitoma from 1993 on.  He suffered a shoulder injury in 1994 and retired after the 1997 season.  He has no Japanese baseball cards that I'm aware of so these two cards from the US are his only cards.

1992 BBM #215

1993 Fleer ProCard #3642

Yasutaka Furusato was drafted by the Tigers in the fourth round of the 1989 draft out of Fukuoka Daiichi High School.  He made his ichi-gun debut in April of 1991 and pitched adequately with the top team that year, going 2-2 with a 3.51 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings over 14 games.  He only got into three games in 1992 and posted an ERA of 9.00 in just three innings of work.  I suspect his poor performance in Bristol in 1993 pretty much sealed his fate as he stayed on the farm team for the rest of his career.  He was a batting practice pitcher for the Dragons and Tigers after retiring in 1997 and has been a scorer for the Tigers and Giants since 2003.

Daiki Katayama was mostly a catcher at Yamaguchi Prefectural Tokuyama Commercial High School but he also pitched and played some outfield.  The Tigers took him in the fourth round of the 1992 draft as a catcher.  He spent his entire eight year career on Hanshin's farm team and has been a bullpen catcher for the team since retiring after the 2000 season.  He has a couple cards in the comprehensive team sets that BBM did for the Tigers in 1999 and 2000 but I don't have either of those cards.

1993 Fleer ProCard #3646

It's odd that Shinya Nakagawa arguably put up the best numbers of any of the players in this group since he had the shortest career of any of this group of players.  He pitched a 5-0 complete game victory as a first year player for Akita University of Economics and Law High School against Shimane Prefectural Izumo Commercial High School during the 1989 Koshien tournament.  He also pitched in the tournament in the following two seasons.  He was the Tigers fifth pick in the 1991 draft and spent his entire four year career in Japan on their farm team.  He took a job in construction after he quit baseball after the 1995 season and has done some youth baseball coaching.  He doesn't have any Japanese baseball cards - he, like Ban, was drafted before BBM started including all the draft picks in the following year's card set and retired before they started doing team sets that included the team's entire 70 man roster.

1994 Classic Best Bristol Tigers #23

2001 BBM Tigers #T49

Kazuhiko Shiotani was drafted as a catcher out of Shinko Gakuen High School in the sixth round of the 1992 draft.  His first home run with the ichi-gun team was a record setting grand slam as he and Tsuyoshi Shinjyo were the first teammates to each hit grand slams in one inning.  His path to getting playing time at catcher was pretty much blocked when the Tigers acquired Akihiro Yano and Ryo Yoshimoto after the 1997 season so he switched to playing the infield, mostly third base.  He was traded to the Orix BlueWave for Hidemitsu Saitoh after the 2001 season.  He had his best season in 2003, getting into 123 games and hitting .307.  He made the All Star team that year - he's the only player from this group to do so.  Released by Orix after the 2005 season he joined the SK Wyverns of the KBO.  His 2006 season was cut short when he was hit by a pitch in early May and broke his left hand.  He returned to Japan and announced his retirement.  He coached with the Fukui Miracle Elephants of the Baseball Challenge League in 2010 but ended up abruptly quitting the team in early April for "personal reasons".  His Japanese Wikipedia page doesn't say anything about what he's done since leaving Fukui.

2003 BBM Victory Road Prologue

Shuta Tanaka (who's registered name was simple "Shuta" after 2003) had the longest and arguably the best career of all of the group of players.  He attended Kumamoto Technical High School where he was a year ahead of future Chunichi Dragon legend Masahiro Araki and was Hanshin's third round pick in the 1994 draft.  After a couple seasons bouncing back and forth between the ichi-gun and ni-gun squads he established himself as a late inning defensive replacement and pinch running specialist for a couple years.  He played in the 2003 Nippon Series, the only one of these nine players to appear in one.  His playing time with the top team declined after 2004, enough so that he requested a trade although nothing ever came of it despite the Hawks showing some interest.  He retired after the 2009 season and has been a scout for Hanshin ever since.

1992 Classic Best Niagara Falls Rapids #7

1998 BBM Tigers #T190

Kazuharu Yamazaki attended Shizuoka High School where he was a teammate of future Kintetsu Buffaloes pitcher Motoyuki Akahori, a three time All Star.  He was drafted by the Tigers in the third round of the 1990 draft.  Like Adachi he was not the team's first choice for that pick - both the Tigers and the Carp had selected Hideki Takahashi that round but Hiroshima won the lottery for him.  He made his ichi-gun debut in April of 1993 and recorded a save on 15th of that month, becoming the youngest player in Tigers history to do so (he was 20 years old).  He spent the 1994 and 1995 seasons as a starter but most of the other seasons with Hanshin he mostly worked out of the bullpen.  He was involved in a big trade after the 2000 season when Hanshin sent him, Toshiro Yufune, and Hirotoshi Kitagawa to Kintetsu for Hiroki Sakai, Tetsuji Mende and Koji Hirashita.  He spent two years with the Buffaloes (where he was reunited with Akahori) before retiring after the 2002 season.  He was a batting practice pitcher with Hanshin after retirement until 2017 when he unsuccessfully ran for the House of Representatives as the Hope Party candidate for Shizuoka District 1.

1993 BBM #425

Kazuki Yonemura was the Tigers third round pick in the 1992 draft out of Kumamoto University of Commerce High School - four of the Tigers' six picks in that year's draft were sent to North America - Adachi, Katayama, Shiotani and Yonemura.  He retired after the 1997 season without having ever made the ichi-gun team, making him the fifth of the nine players in the group who spent their entire Japanese career on the farm team.  His Wikipedia page doesn't say what he's been doing since retiring.

1992 Classic Best Niagara Falls Rapids #28

1992 Fleer ProCards #3344

1993 Fleer ProCards #3667

1994 Classic Best Bristol Tigers #29

2019 BBM Baystars 70th Anniversary #20

Hanshin did not sent the players to North America by themselves - they sent a coach along with them.  For the first three years that coach was former Taiyo Whales pitcher Shigeyuki Takahashi.  Takahashi had dropped out of Chiba Commercial High School in 1962 to join Taiyo but spent his first two seasons on the farm team.  Takehiko Bessho became the Whale's pitching coach in 1964 and recognized Takahashi's potential.  He ended up going 17-11 with a 2,77 ERA and won the Central League Rookie Of The Year award.  He had an even better season in 1965, going 21-17 with a 2,40 ERA.  He had  somewhat mixed results after that.  He actually had two stints playing in the United States as he and three other Taiyo players played on the San Francisco Giants' Arizona instructional league team in the fall of 1969 and he spent the entire 1972 season with the Giants' Triple-A team in Phoenix.  He made three All Star teams (1964, 1965 and 1978) before retiring after the 1980 season.  He became a coach for Hanshin in 1981 and had a variety of coaching roles for them until 1997 after which he moved into the Tigers' front office.  I don't think he coached with the Gulf Coast League team in 1995 and 1996 as I think he was the Tigers' ichi-gun pitching coach in 1996 and 1997.  He passed away in 2010 from heart failure at age 64.  

I assume that the Tigers sent someone to coach the players on the Gulf Coast League team but I don't know who that was.

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