Hanshin Tigers 2015 Round 1 draft pick Shun Takayama (OF) has won the Central League Rookie of the Year Award. He received 220 out of a possible 269 points and becomes the first Tiger to win the prize since 2007, when pitcher Keiji Uezono took it home. He becomes the ninth Tiger in club history to earn the recognition, and just the second outfielder (after Norihiro Akahoshi in 2001). Others on this year’s ballot included BayStars pitcher Shota Imanaga, catcher Yasutaka Tobashira, and Hanshin catcher Fumihito Haraguchi, who got one vote.
Here is an excerpt of the press conference:
— What are your initial thoughts about winning the award?
“I’m really happy to have been voted for this award, since any given player is only eligible to win it once in their lifetime.”
— Who do you want to thank?
“Of course my family, but also everyone who has played a part in my life as a baseball player, from my family all the way to coaches and the fans who have cheered me on, too.”
— Could you imagine this happening before the season began?
“To be honest, since I was recovering from an injury when I got drafted, I was more preoccupied with just being able to play an entire season of baseball, so no, I didn’t give this any thought beforehand.”
— What do you think was the biggest factor in being able to win?
“I joined the team during a season of ‘ultra reform’ and Coach Kanemoto put me in the lineup all year.”
— Any words from your manager that left an impression on you?
“He spoke to me a lot throughout the season so I can’t really narrow it down to one phrase, but, hmmm… what can I say? I guess that he told me often that I needed to build up stamina to be able to play through an entire season.”
— What game do you remember the most from this year?
“It has to be the first game and getting a hit to shallow left in my first at bat. That at bat has stayed in my mind the longest.”
— What are your goals/hopes for next season?
“I think the fight for playing time in our outfield is going to be fierce again next year, so I hope to win that battle and play — and start — in every game. That’s my goal for next year.”
At the ceremony itself, he said, “I really lacked the strength to get through the year, so there were a lot of ups and downs.” About Hanshin fans at Koshien, he commented, “When I was hitting well, everyone was very supportive, but when I didn’t hit, I heard a lot of harsh comments. I’ll do my best to make sure next year I get more kind comments.”
(Side note: Takayama confessed at fan appreciation day that one time he had someone in the left field stands ask him to spare some money so the fan could buy a beer!)
In other news, pitcher Takumi Akiyama received an award for leading the Western League (farm system) with 9 wins on the year. He tied with two SoftBank Hawks pitchers. Akiyama says he wants to use this award as his “send off” from the farm team, which he hopes to stay off of next season.
Also, potential future slugger Naomasa Yohkawa took home hardware for leading the Western in home runs (14) and RBIs (62). Yohkawa appeared on the top squad a few times during the year and slugged two home runs, but also having his weaknesses exposed by top-grade pitching. Says Yohkawa: “It felt so great to play at Koshien. I got goosebumps,” adding, “I learned what my weaknesses are and will work hard to strengthen them during the offseason.”
Congratulations to all three Tigers. For the record, no Tigers were named to the Central League’s “Best Nine” this year, and none of the fielders received Golden Gloves, either. This marks the first time in four seasons that the club was shut out in both areas. The Central League MVP was taken home by former Tiger first baseman Takahiro Arai, who helped lead the Carp to its first pennant in 25 years. The Pacific League MVP went to none other than Shohei Ohtani, who came up one ballot shy of a unanimous selection.