As most of you are aware, the best defensive player we’ve had this century has left the club for bluer pastures. That’s right. Yamato exercised his free agent rights and signed a three-year deal with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, which is said to be worth ¥300 million. Because Yamato was a classified B-ranking free agent, Hanshin had the option of taking just a cash compensation, or else a partial cash compensation plus one unprotected player from the BayStars’ roster. See last year’s Yoshio Itoi acquisition for an explanation of how it works.
When the dust settled, the Tigers decided to go with a young pitcher. He goes by the name Yuya Onaka, and he is still just 22 years old (will be 23 next month). He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, and played in 11 top-squad games last season. He struck out 17 while walking 15 in 19 1/3 innings of work. Obviously the control is an issue, but his ability to miss bats will come in handy.
Apparently he gave up 8 runs in his first two outings on the top squad, figured out that he had no out pitch when he got ahead in counts, and picked up a new pitch. After that, he excelled on the farm, throwing 32 2/3 innings in 25 games and posting an impressive 1.38 ERA. Reports suggest that when Tomoaki Kanemoto and coaching staff saw the BayStars’ list of protected players, they couldn’t believe Onaka was not on it. The choice was quick and unanimous.
You can see some highlights (and lowlights too, I suppose) of his pitching in this video:
It is interesting to note that he was the winning pitcher in the first game shown in this highlight clip. You may remember it as the match in which the BayStars hit back-to-back-to-back jacks in the bottom of the ninth to walk off the Carp. Just a coincidence that he got the W, but cool nonetheless.
We shall see how he does in pinstripes, but in the meantime, welcome to the team, Onaka! Hopefully the blue pastures you’re leaving behind will pale in comparison to the joys of playing at Koshien for the Hanshin Tigers!