Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kenichi Nakata & Kenta Asakura

Kenichi Nakata
Two guys that I didn't even mention in my 2012 Outlook post who have been getting their fair share of opportunities in camp are Kenichi Nakata and Kenta Asakura.  Both are right-handed pitchers who were drafted very highly.  Nakata was a second-round pick in 2004 and Asakura was a first-rounder back in 1999.  They are within a year apart in age, as Asakura was drafted out of high school, while Nakata was drafted out of college. 

There has been a lot of similarities in their career paths as well.  Both had considerable success as young players and both have been burdened by numerous injuries and poor performances over the last few years.  They have also each had appearances in multiple Japan Series's with mixed results, ranging from dominance to disaster for each of them. 

Asakura's career has been a bit more up and down than Nakata's, with higher highs and lower lows.  He was one the CL's top pitchers in 2002 and 2006, with some leaner injury-filled years sandwiched in between.  He was solid in 2007 and 2008 and okay over 150+ innings in 2009.  Since then his performance has fallen off a cliff and he spent most of his time in ni-gun last year.  He was successful last year in ni-gun, but has flopped with an ERA of over 6.00 during his ichi-gun opportunities over the last two years.

Nakata's has been the more consistent of the two, but his best seasons don't quite compare to Asakura's best years.  Nakata, however, has been a much better strikeout pitcher and has averaged nearly a strikeout an inning over his career.  He had a good year in 2010, though I never really had as much confidence in him as I probably should have that season.  I was very surprised and dismayed when Ochiai sent him out for the pivotal Game 5 of the 2010 Japan Series, especially after he hadn't pitched in real game in over a month.  Nakata gave up 8 earned runs over 5 innings and took the loss in that game.  That choice was one of only a few gripes I ever had with Ochiai.  Last year Nakata was only able to pitch in around 50 innings between both ichi-gun and ni-gun.  He wasn't awful at ichi-gun and actually didn't give up a single run over 20 innings in ni-gun.

Kenta Asakura

Both guys have been at ichi-gun camp this spring and have participated in several of the exhibition games.  Nakata has fared better than Asakura in those games and it sounds like Takagi may be counting on him more than I anticipated.  Nakata has shown some good fastball velocity in camp with reports him throwing up to 149 km/h, but he has had mechanics issues as well.  It is hard to say how much time Asakura will spend at ichi-gun this year.  It seems like he may be running out of chances, though under-performing players do tend to hang around a lot longer on NPB clubs as compared to the MLB system. 

If one or both of these guys can get it together and have a nice season it could really give Chunichi a lift, as they are already having injury issues in their starting rotation.  I'm not expecting a whole lot from either player, but it looks like there will be more opportunites for each of them and I hope they will make the most out of those opportunities.  Hopefully their prior injuries haven't taken too much out their arms and 2012 will be their year to shine again.  There is hope for Nakata especially, as his velocity seems fine.  We will find out soon enough as Opening Day is just over a week away and reports have said that Takagi is planning to start Nakata in one of the games against Yokohama in the second series of the year.

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