Tokyo Big 6
Hayata Itoh, Keio University, OF
I used to write a ton about Itoh and nicknamed him "Clutchy McClutchitude" because he always came through for the team in big situations. He's often compared to Atsunori Inaba because he's an outfielder from Chukyodai Chukyo who bats lefty for power and average, has a good arm and speed and so on.
He's a pretty smart guy overall, and he knows Pi to 115 places. And in the spring he missed the batting Triple Crown by ONE HIT. But this semester he's been kind of erratic, and I'm really not sure what's up with that. A few weeks ago there was a game where a whole bunch of close umpiring calls went against Keio, culminating in a guy getting tagged out by being punched in the head basically, and Itoh and Etoh-kantoku both were really angry about it, to the point that Itoh wasn't even bowing to the umpires before each at-bat like he used to, and didn't have the team line up and bow to the stands, and that one day, snuck out of Jingu so he wouldn't have to face fans or press! (Seriously.)
Anyway, he's a veritable superstar and should do pretty well in the pros. He hits for power and average and has a really sweet swing. Over his college career he's also really filled out a lot more and really looks like, well, a baseball player. I don't think he'll be a cleanup batter in the pros, and I'm not even sure he'll have as good a rookie year as, say, Shota Ishimine, but he'll do fine. (I'd love to eat those words, but the fact is, if he DOES get drafted by a team like Hanshin, he's unlikely to get a lot of playing time his first year, you know?)
At the USA-Japan tournament.
This is one of my favorite photos I ever took of him -- he's standing at 3rd base during Soukeisen talking trash with Waseda's Ayuki Matsumoto (the Baystars' Keijiro's little brother)
Yusuke Nomura, Meiji Univ, RHP
I've also talked about Nomura a lot, being as the first time I ever saw him pitch was in Koshien 2007. He was the Koryo HS ace and was considered fairly unstoppable, until he ran up against the Miracle Saga Kita team and ran out of steam in the 8th inning and Hiroshi Soejima hit that grand slam and well, that's history.
Nomura has had a fairly awesome college career in Big 6 though; he pitched 34 scoreless innings as a freshman to get the ERA title then and also got the ERA title last spring. He just got his 30th win last weekend and he passed 300 strikeouts during the 2011 spring semester. Almost all of the pitchers who accomplished that in Big 6 have gone pro and most have had successful careers. I suspect Nomura will too -- he's been very solid his entire time, never misses a game, never gets injured, always strikes out a ton of guys and never walks anyone. He's not huge and he's not going to ever throw 150+, but his control is great and he's got a very stoic manner on the mound.
As you can see, he's VERY consistent in his form. I have so many photos of him that look exactly the same that it's hard to choose one. The top is from the fall 2011 semester and the bottom is from the Japan-US tournament.
Here's how I'll always remember him, actually -- he has this habit while standing on the sidelines of tossing a ball up and down in the air, almost like juggling, so here he is on the mound doing the same thing.
Just for fun:
Nomura during his sophomore year. Clearly younger, but not much else has changed about him. He's simply consistent.
Shogo Shibata, Meiji University, LHP
Shogo has an amazing story -- he suffers from Behçet's disease, an incurable immunodeficiency, which he was diagnosed with when he was in junior high school. But he entered Aikodai Meiden HS anyway (you may recognize that as Ichiro's alma mater) and worked as hard as he could given the disease he was facing, and his 3rd year he pitched at Koshien. Then he entered Meiji University, and has been trying his best, but of course has also been in the shadow of many other pitchers there, what with being the same year as Nomura.
(There was a TV special about him when he was in high school. You can watch it on Youtube starting here).
I don't think Shogo will get drafted unless some team does it for the story, like Chunichi, but he IS a decent lefty pitcher and a really nice guy too. There was an article about him in Shube this past week how he basically is entering the draft because he wants to follow his dream and refuses to ever run away from things no matter how unlikely or difficult they are.
Hiroaki Shimauchi, Meiji University, OF
I haven't talked about Shimauchi much. This has been a gross mistake on my part. He has very quietly managed to have 3 amazing semesters playing for Meiji as a lefty-batting lefty-throwing outfielder from Seiryo HS, who sometimes even gets compared to being a "smaller Matsui". He put up a 1.064 OPS in the fall 2010 semester but didn't play during opening weekend and so didn't qualify for the batting leaders. He put up a .954 OPS in the spring 2011 semester, good enough for 4th, and his .385 BA was good enough for 3rd. He put up a .959 OPS this semester, with a league-leading 16 walks (the only way anyone's catching that during Soukeisen is if they walk EVERY TIME THEY COME TO THE PLATE pretty much) and a home run. (Oh, and 2 strikeouts against those 16 walks.)
It kinda sucks that I never actually got to know Shimauchi, since I did get to know a bunch of the other 4th-year Meiji players, and he seems like a nice guy. I gave him a bunch of photos last week and got him to sign one and told him good luck in the draft and all, and he seemed surprised but happy. We'll see what happens.
Keisuke Okazaki, Rikkio University, IF
I honestly don't know what's going to happen to Okazaki in this draft. I could see reasons for him getting drafted: he's been a consistently good batter in his last 2 years of Big 6, including leading the league in OPS by far this semester with an 1.184 as well as being the batting champion at .424. He was Rikkio's captain this year and they've actually done better this year than they had in a while. He played 2nd base for a long time, though has been mostly at 1st this year. He's from PL Gakuen HS and was on that same team as Kenta Maeda, they were both regulars from their freshman year. He has some power and he has a decent glove.
On the other hand, I've met Okazaki several times, and we even got a photo together in the US, and he is barely bigger than me, and I mean both heightwise and weightwise. (I'm 5'7".) In Japan that doesn't actually matter as much as it would in the US, but I don't think Okazaki runs enough to make up for his small frame. And of course, there have been lots of Big 6 batting champs who haven't made it to the pros, or did make it and haven't been all that great there.
On the other other hand, I never expected Fumiya Araki to get drafted last year, and look how that worked out! So who knows.
(I am mostly showing off my mad photo-taking luck here.)
Shohei Habu, Waseda University, OF
A teammate of Nomura's during that Koshien 2007, Habu has been a consistently decent player over his years at Waseda, though he hasn't been stellar this year per se. Still, he's a Waseda outfielder who bats lefty and can run, so there may be teams interested in him. Or not.
Daichi Suzuki, Toyo University, SS
Toyo captain, national team captain as well. Decent shortstop, decent lefty batter. My impression of him personality-wise is that he's kind of a jackass, but that's not really fair. He comes from Toin Gakuen HS, which is a nice academic and baseball pedigree to have.
Takahiro Fujioka, Toyo University, LHP
My favorite player going into the draft. He's tall, left-handed, throws 150 km/h (for reals, not this Jingu gun stuff), strikes out a ton of batters, throws a ton of complete games, goes to the mound with a smile on his face no matter what the situation, and has a great personality in general. In short, he's like a left-handed Kagami, but actually probably better in that his mechanics are less likely to get him injured and his manager isn't an idiot in overusing him.
(I have a few more photos of him in a preseason game post from the Hosei grounds, where I met him for the first time, and the US-Japan tourney. I also have a whole ton of photos of him from earlier, back to April 2009, that I never posted. Whoops.)
Takuya Uchiyama, Toyo University, RHP
Kyosuke Takagi, Kokugakuin University, LHP
Tomoyuki Sugano, Tokai University, RHP
Widely regarded as the best pitcher in this draft, Sugano is the nephew of Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, and there's a good chance that ONLY the Giants will take him, like with Sawamura last year. Lame, but at least it means Fujioka won't go to the Giants.
Pre-season game at Meiji university's grounds (this is when I met him and got a photo together)
2010 All-Japan national collegiate tournament.
2011 US-Japan tournament in North Carolina.
Shotaro Tashiro, Hachinohe University, OF
Kinda another Shogo Akiyama type, though probably a little more on the speed and less on the boom. These are from the same 2010 All-Japan tournament. I have a lot of photos of him, though I'm not sure why. Something must have struck me as intriguing about him at the time, maybe it's the way he puts his arms together when he bats? I just don't remember at this point.