The third edition of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) will be played from March 2-19, with the finals to be held in San Francisco. Japan is the two-time defending champion by virtue of taking the titles in 2006 and 2009.
Japan’s 2013 WBC entry will not feature any current major leaguers as stars like Ichiro, Hiroki Kuroda, and Yu Darvish have decided to bypass the competition and focus on the upcoming major-league season. Japan’s current team using only Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) players has some quality pitchers, but really lacks top-notch hitters, especially in the power department.
In order to get to the finals in San Francisco, Japan will also have to defeat top rivals like South Korea and Cuba-formidable tasks even if more of the country’s best players were suiting up for the tournament. The following list includes brief information on the the key players for Japan in the 2013 WBC:
Kenta Maeda: Maeda had a big season for the Hiroshima Carp in 2012. He went 14-7 with a top 1.53 ERA. In 206.1 IP, he allowed only 161 hits while racking up 171 strikeouts. However, he has not shown adequate velocity so far this year according to various news reports, and will need to display better stuff to be successful in the WBC.
Kazuhisa Makita: Makita was primarily a reliever in 2011, but switched to the rotation last year with fine results for the Saitama Seibu Lions. With the individual pitch limits in the WBC, Makita could be useful in either role next month.
Masahiko Morifuku: A southpaw reliever who dominated NPB’s Pacific League for the past two years with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Morifuku is small in stature, but baffles hitters with deception and a variety of quality pitches.
Atsushi Nomi: Nomi is a veteran lefty who has become a top starter the past couple of years for the Hanshin Tigers. He hurled 182 innings in 2012, with 172 strikeouts and only 157 hits allowed. He will be counted on heavily to pitch quality innings in the WBC.
Hirokazu Sawamura: Sawamura has been a solid starter for NPB’s most popular team, the Yomiuri Giants, for the last two years. However, there are questions surrounding his arm after the 200-innings workload of his 2011 rookie season. His 2012 numbers were significantly worse than the previous year, and it will be interesting to see if he returns to his rookie-year form in time for the WBC.
Toshiya Sugiuchi: Sugiuchi moved to the Yomiuri Giants for 2012 after ten excellent years in Fukuoka. With a 115-59 record overall, Sugiuchi will be looked to for a veteran presence on the mound and to use his quality pitch repertoire to help Japan to WBC wins.
Masahiro Tanaka: A highly-acclaimed high school pitcher several years ago, Tanaka quickly found success in NPB for the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Now 24 years old, Tanaka already has 75 wins and 1055 strikeouts in his young career. A member of the winning 2009 WBC team, he will be expected to shoulder the duties of pitching ace for Japan this time.
Tetsuya Utsumi: Utsumi has performed admirably as a starter for the Yomiuri Giants since 2005. With nearly 100 career wins under his belt, Utsumi should be another staff leader. He recorded a 15-6 record in 2012, tossing 186 innings with a superb 1.98 ERA.
Hideaki Wakui: The 26-year-old Wakui was one of NPB’s better starting pitchers from 2006-11. He moved to the closer’s role for the Saitama Seibu Lions last year and recorded 30 saves. He has not had his best fastball velocity much of the past couple seasons, and it will be interesting to see how well he performs in the WBC.
KEY POSITION PLAYERS
Shinnosuke Abe: Perhaps the most accomplished position player for Japan in the WBC, Abe is a competent receiver behind the plate who really excels as a hitter. The 33-year-old catcher hit a robust .340 with 27 HRs and 104 RBIs for the Yomiuri Giants last season.
Atsunori Inaba: Inaba is the team’s elder statesman at age 40. Still a good hitter, he batted .290 last year with 10 HRs and 61 RBIs for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Sho Nakata: Nakata is one of the few hitters on Japan’s roster capable of hitting for power. He smacked 24 roundtrippers in 2012 for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, but has hit for low averages and with many strikeouts thus far in his short career.
Hayato Sakamoto: An infield starter for the Yomiuri Giants by age 20, Sakamoto has become a skilled defender at the shortstop position the past few years. He hit .311 with 14 HRs and 69 RBIs last season.
Seiichi Uchikawa: A prominent member of Japan’s victorious WBC team in 2009, Uchikawa will need to provide consistent offense if Japan is to succeed next month. His 2012 numbers in NPB include a .300 batting average, but with diminished power production at seven HRs and 53 RBIs.
For more player information, please see the official NPB site.
Patrick Hattman lived in Japan for more than a decade and continues to closely follow the country’s best athletes and team sports.