Friday, April 16, 2021

Tatsuya Uchi

Longtime Chiba Lotte Marine pitcher Tatsuya Uchi announced his retirement back in January.  Uchi was the Marines number one pick out of Kawasaki Kogyo High School in the 2003 draft.  He made his debut with the top team as a starter the following season after going 0-1 with a 10.69 ERA in four starts he was sent back down to the farm team to become a reliever.  He became the closer on the ni-gun team, recorded 10 saves and was the top reliever in the Eastern League in 2004.  He never started another game after that.

He bounced between the top and farm teams frequently during his first few years and then he started to run into issues staying healthy.  He had shoulder surgery in late 2007 and missed the first half of the next season doing rehab.  Despite spending most of 2010 with the farm team he pitched for the Marines in the 2010 Nippon Series and did quite well - pitching eight innings in four games and striking out 13 while giving up six hits, one walk and zero earned runs.  His performance in the Series earned him an "Outstanding Player" Award.  Unfortunately he hurt his ankle after the Series and had surgery which cut into his playing time in 2011.  Once he finally started playing again, he suffered an elbow injury that put him back on the sidelines.  Elbow and/or ankle injuries would constantly cost him playing time over the next three seasons.  He put up pretty good numbers when he was healthy so the Marines took their time with him.  2017 was the first season in his career that he spent the entire year with the ichi-gun squad, He took over as closer from Naoya Masuda for a stretch during that season and finished the year with a 5-1 record along with 16 saves and 2.94 ERA.  He started the 2018 season as the closer and notched 26 saves although his ERA rose to 3.84.  He made the All Star team that year for the only time in his career.  

Those two seasons would cost him.  He appeared in 50 ichi-gun games in 2017, by far the most ever for him, and he topped that the following year by getting into 58 games.  Those 108 games were over a third of the 308 total games he appeared in his career.  He needed elbow surgery after the 2018 season ended and missed all of 2019.  He got into 24 games with the farm team in 2020 but Lotte released him after the season ended.  He attended the 12 team tryout in December but didn't draw any interest.

His first BBM cards were from the 2004 Rookie Edition (#21) and 1st Version (#119) sets.  He did not have a Calbee card until Series Three (#159) in 2016, 12 years after his rookie season.  Here's a bunch of his cards:

2004 BBM Rookie Edition #21

2004 BBM 1st Version #119

2006 BBM Marines #M11

2010 BBM Nippon Series #S05

2011 BBM Marines 20th Anniversary #14

2015 BBM Marines #M11

2016 Calbee #159

2018 Epoch NPB #187

2020 BBM Marines #M11

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Toru Hosokawa

Longtime NPB catcher Toru Hosokawa retired at the end of the 2020 season.  Hosokawa was the top pick of the Lions in the 2001 NPB draft although he actually joined the team as their "free acquisition pick" rather than a traditional draft pick.  He spent most of his first season on the farm and split the ichi-gun catching duties with Tsutomu Itoh in 2003.  He became the starting catcher after Itoh retired (despite his somewhat abysmal hitting) and grew into the job over the next few years.  His offense peaked in 2008, hitting .238 with 16 home runs (and 129 strikeouts).  He made the All Star team for the only time that season and also won both the Best 9 and Golden Glove awards.  An elbow injury cost him much of the 2009 season and he lost his starting role to Ginjiro Sumitani but regained it the following season when Sumitani broke his knee in March.  He only hit .191 though and filed for free agency at the end of the season.

He signed on with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and was the Hawks Opening Day catcher for the next few years despite missing some time with injuries and continuing to hit poorly.  He won the 2011 Best 9 and Golden Glove awards despite a batting average of .201 - this was actually his highest average with Softbank until 2016.  A thumb injury cut into his playing time in 2015 and he split 2016 between the top and farm teams.  The Hawks released him at the end of the year and he signed on with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

He spent two seasons with the Eagles although much of it was on the farm team.  The Eagles released him after the 2018 season and asked him to coach for them but he decided he wanted to continue to play.  The Marines picked him up and he spent two more seasons with them, again mostly on the ni-gun team.  Lotte released him in early November and he announced his retirement a few days later.  He's now managing the Fire Country Salamanders of the independent Kyushu Asian League.

Hosokawa's first BBM cards are from the 2002 Preview (#P90), 1st Version (#267) and 2nd Version (#696) sets.  His first Calbee card was #168 from the 2004 Series Three set.  Here are some of his cards:

2002 BBM Preview #P90

2002 BBM 1st Version #267

2004 BBM Nippon Series #16

2007 Lions Original Player Card #27

2008 BBM 1st Version #375

2008 BBM All Stars #A46

2011 BBM 1st Version #378

2013 BBM Hawks 75th Anniversary #82

2014 Hawks Players Card

2017 BBM Eagles #E42

2020 BBM Marines #M42

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Hiroki Uemoto

Yet another player who retired after the 2020 season was Hanshin Tigers infielder Hiroki Uemoto.  Uemoto had been a star player with Koryo High School in Hiroshima and played in several spring and summer Koshien tournaments and won the 2003 spring one.  He moved on to Waseda University and was a star there as well, making the Best 9 team as the second baseman five times and playing on several collegiate national teams.  The Tigers took him with the third pick in the 2008 draft.

He spent his first year and half with the Tigers on the farm team, not making his debut on the top team until July of 2010.  He appears to have mostly been a backup infielder his first few seasons and had some difficulty staying healthy.  He missed the first half of the 2012 season with an elbow injury and then missed most of 2013 after hurting his ankle in an outfield collision in an exhibition game against Samurai Japan that spring.  

He was healthy in 2014 and became the Tigers' starting second baseman when Tsuyoshi Nishioka was injured in a outfield collision with Kosuke Fukudome.  He played in 131 games, the most of his career, and hit .276.  He started all five of the Tigers games in the Nippon Series that year against the Hawks.  He was the starting second baseman on Opening Day of 2015 but suffered hip and back injuries diving for a catch in August and missed most of the rest of the season.  

He lost his starting job at second to Nishioka in 2016 and split the season between the ichi-gun and ni-gun teams.  He beat out Nishioka to win the second base job back in 2017 and had perhaps his best season, hitting .284 with 9 home runs.  He had ankle surgery after the season and the Tigers moved Takeshi Toritani from third to second the following spring over concerns about his recovery.  He managed to win the second base job back yet again by the beginning of May but then suffered a knee injury that cost his the remainder of the season.  He split the 2019 and 2020 seasons between the farm team and being a back up on the top team and was released by the Tigers last December.  He was hoping to get an offer from another team but when nothing materialized he decided to retire.

His younger brother Takashi has been a member of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp since 2013.

Uemoto's another of those rare Japanese players to have pre-rookie cards.  He had cards with Waseda in both the Spring and Autumn Versions of the 2008 BBM Tokyo Big Six sets and also appeared in the 2008 Japanese Collegiate National Team set and the Japanese Collegiate National Team subset from the 2008 Upper Deck USA Baseball box set.  His first NPB cards were 2009 BBM Rookie Edition #063 and 1st Version #287.  His first Calbee card was #026 in the 2013 Series One set.  Here's a selection of his cards:

2008 BBM Tokyo Big Six Spring Version #1

2008 BBM Japan College National Team #CN12

2009 BBM Rookie Edition #063

2009 BBM 1st Version #287

2009 BBM 2nd Version #M08

2013 Calbee #026

2015 BBM 2nd Version #508

2017 Epoch Tigers #23 (2 * variant)

2018 BBM 1st Version #202

2020 BBM Tigers #T45

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Naoto Watanabe

Naoto Watanabe is yet another player who retired at the end of the 2020 season.  Watanabe had been the Eagles' fifth round pick in the university/industrial league player portion of the 2006 draft.  He had been playing for Mitsubishi Fuso Kawasaki for a few years after graduating from Josai University.  He pretty much immediately became the starting shortstop for Rakuten in 2007 and kept that position through 2010.

He ended up leaving Rakuten following the 2010 season due to an odd set of circumstances.  The Eagles had posted Hisashi Iwakuma to MLB and were anticipating the $19.1 million that Oakland had bid for Iwakuma's rights.  They signed returning major leaguers Akinori Iwamura and Kazuo Matsui to contracts for the 2011 season.  But then the Athletics were unable (or unwilling) to come to an agreement with Iwakuma which meant that not only were the Eagles not getting the $19.1 million but they were also going to have pay Iwakuma for the 2011 season.  About a week after Iwakuma's posting fell through, the Eagles sold Watanabe to the Yokohama Baystars.

The Baystars shifted him to second base in 2011 and he had a pretty good season, making the All Star team for the first (and only) time in his career.  He hurt his shoulder a month into the 2012 season, however, and only played about half the season.  He started out slow in 2013 and was banished to the farm team in late April where he would remain for a couple of months.  In July he was traded to the Saitama Seibu Lions for Shuichiro Osada.  He would spend four and a half seasons in Tokorozawa, mostly as a backup infielder.  

The Lions released him following the the 2017 season and he returned to Sendai.  He spent most of 2018 with the ichi-gun squad as a pinch hitter and late inning defensive replacement.  Ankle injuries cost him much of the 2019 season and he was named a player-coach for 2020 although he did more coaching than playing - he only played in one game in 2020: his retirement game on November 6th.  He's one of the Eagles' hitting coaches this season.

He was the last position player from the "Matsuzaka Generation" who was still active in NPB.  The only remaining active NPB players from this group are Tsuyoshi Wada and (of course) Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Keisuke Mizuta is the only other active player from this group - he's a player coach with a club/industrial league team called RokiTechno Toyama.

Watanabe's first BBM and Calbee cards are all from 2007.  He's #45 and #216 in BBM's Rookie Edition and 1st Version sets respectively and #262 in Calbee's Series Three set.  Here's a bunch of his cards:

2007 BBM Rookie Edition #45

2007 BBM 1st Version #216

2008 BBM 2nd Version #677

2011 BBM All Stars #A64

2012 Calbee #069

2014 Calbee #176

2016 BBM 2nd Version #347

2018 BBM Eagles #E49

2020 Eagles Baseball Card 1st Version #49

Monday, April 12, 2021

Yuya Kubo

Another player who retired last fall was pitcher Yuya Kubo, most recently a member of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.  Kubo was the top draft pick of the Yomiuri Giants in the 2002 draft out of Tokai University.  I guess technically he wasn't actually a draft pick - he signed with the Giants as their "free acquisition" pick which meant that he and the team came to terms before the draft and no other team had a shot at drafting him. 

He made his NPB debut early in 2003 and split his first couple seasons split between starting and relieving before settling into a middle relief role in 2005 and 2006.  He spent a lot of time with the farm team from 2007 to 2009 (although he did make an appearance in the 2008 Nippon Series) but that all changed in 2010.  He pitched in 79 games in middle relief and went 8-1 with a 2.77 ERA and made the All Star team for the first time.  He had an even better season in 2011, posting an ERA of 1.17 in 67 games.  I'm not positive but I think he was the closer for part of the season as he had 20 saves.  

He had hip surgery after the 2011 season and that appears to have been the beginning of injury issues that plagued him for the remainder of his career.  He suffered an elbow injury at the beginning of the 2012 season and needed Tommy John surgery which cost him the rest of the season and most of 2013.  He pitched ok in 2014, going 4-4 with a 4.73 ERA in 48 games but he spent the entire 2015 season on the farm and was released at the end of the year.

The Yokohama DeNA Baystars signed him for the 2016 season.  He spent most of the season with their farm team, going 3-0 with an ERA of 3.64 in 22 games.  He didn't pitch as well with the ichi-gun squad, posting an ERA of 5.25 in nine games and the Baystars released him after the season ended.

Kubo took part in the 12-team tryout in November of 2016 and ended up getting signed by the Eagles.  He pitched pretty well in 2017, going 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA in 27 games but he developed a circulation problem with his fingers late in the season.  The Eagles released him after the season ended but immediately resigned him to an ikuesei contract.

He pitched well enough for the farm team in 2018 for the Eagles to re-sign him to the 70 man roster in May.  He went 1-0 with an ERA of 1.71 in 25 games that year and followed that up with a 2-1 record with a 2.82 ERA in 22 games in 2019.  He spent the first month of 2020 on the farm team before getting called up at the end of July.  He got the win in his first appearance on July 30th although he did so by only facing a single hitter in a game where the starting pitcher failed to go five innings.  He only appeared in four other games and they didn't go as well as he posted a 13.50 ERA for the season.  

Kubo is one of the rare Japanese players to have a pre-rookie card as he appeared in the 2002 BBM set for the Japanese National Team from the 2001 IBAF Baseball World Cup.  His BBM rookie cards from 2003 are #1 from the Rookie Edition set, #25 from the 1st Version set and #434 from the 2nd Version set.  His first Calbee card was also from 2003, #88 from the Series Two set.  Here's a bunch of his cards:

2002 BBM Japanese National Team #9

2003 BBM Rookie Edition #1

2003 BBM 1st Version #25

2007 Konami Baseball Heroes 3 White Edition #B07W136

2008 BBM Nippon Series #S30

2010 Giants Winning Game Card #41

2011 BBM All Stars #A46

2014 BBM 2nd Version #553

2016 Baystars Team Set #00

2020 BBM Fusion #29

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Card Of The Week April 11

A little over a year ago I got curious about what was the oldest BBM flagship set that had contained a card of a currently active NPB player.  The answer last year was the 1998 set which had Ryota Igarashi's rookie card.  With Igarashi's retirement, the oldest BBM set to contain a card of an active player is now the 1999 set which has the rookie cards for both Kosuke Fukudome (#310) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (#413) - although whether Matsuzaka should be considered "active" is an open question as this is his second season on Seibu's roster but he hasn't even pitched with the farm team during that time:

Both of these cards were on my short list for inclusion in my "One Iconic Card For Each Team" post.

As I said last year, this statistic only started to be interesting in recent years.  Until 2016, the answer was always 1991.  But after both Satoshi Nakajima and Masahiro Yamamoto retired in 2015, the answer moved up to 1994 (Kazuya Fukuura, Kazuo Matsui and Daisuke Miura) and remained there until last year (Muira retired after 2016, Matsui after 2018 and Fukuura after 2019).

If these two guys retire this year, the answer next year is likely to skip at least one year as no member of the 2000 NPB rookie class is still active in the league (although at least two - Munenori Kawasaki and Itsuki Shoda - are still active in independent ball).