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

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