Hanshin and Rakuten win rights for draft's coveted top prospects
The Central League’s Hanshin Tigers secured the rights to negotiate with Kindai University’s slugging infielder Teruaki Sato on Monday at Nippon Professional Baseball’s amateur draft.
The Pacific League’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, meanwhile, won the rights for the other most highly sought prospect, Waseda University pitcher Takahisa Hayakawa.
The two players were each nominated as the No. 1 pick by four of the 12 NPB clubs, with Hanshin and Rakuten drawing the winning lots.
“I used to go to Koshien Stadium a lot when I was small. (The Tigers) were a club I felt close to, so I’m happy,” said Sato, a left-handed batter rated highly for his foot speed and strong throwing arm.
“Hopefully I can become a player who can hit 40 or 50 home runs consistently.”
Left-hander Hayakawa centers his pitching arsenal on his fastball, which has been clocked at 155 kilometers per hour. Rakuten General Manager and former big league pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii could not hide his excitement after using his own renowned throwing arm to draw the winning lot.
“I’ve never been so nervous. He is the best pitcher this year,” said Ishii, who won 182 games in Japan and the United States. “He’ll be the pitcher to carry Japanese baseball.”
The PL’s Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, whose past picks include current big leaguers Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani, went for pitcher Hiromi Ito of Tomakomai Komazawa University, also based in the northernmost main island of Hokkaido.
With their second-round pick, the Fighters earned the rights for Chuo University outfielder Ryota Isobata, formerly an outstanding schoolboy sprinter who beat current Japanese 100-meter record-holder Abdul Hakim Sani Brown over 100 and 200 meters in junior high.
The CL’s Chunichi Dragons, who won lots to land infielders Akira Neo and Takaya Ishikawa over the past two years, opted for another top high school prospect in pitcher Hiroto Takahashi of Chukyo University Senior High School.
Like Nippon Ham and Chunichi, the CL’s Hiroshima Carp and Yokohama DeNA BayStars had free runs at their top targets in pitcher Ryoji Kuribayashi of Toyota Motor and Meiji University pitcher Taisei Irie, respectively.
This year’s draft meeting was held without fans to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Club representatives watched the proceedings via monitor in separate rooms. Those who drew lots moved to a different room and disinfected their hands when entering.