Pacific All Stars perform in front of MLB pro scouts
Story and photos by Greg Mitchell, FLEACT Public Affairs
Rainy conditions did little to dampen attendance for the Major League Baseball Pro Scouting event held at Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka’s main baseball field, home of the Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, June 8.
Former major league pitcher Keichi Yabu of the San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s and Japan Professional Baseball’s Hanshin Tigers headlined the event. Scouts on hand were David Kim and Koji Takahashi of the Minnesota Twins, Manabu Kuramochi of the Kansas City Royals, and Clinton Matsuzawa of the Cleveland Indians. The veteran of the bunch was John Cox, San Francisco Giants Coordinator of Pacific Rim Scouting.
In all, a total of 19 players were in attendance, representing Zama American, St. Mary’s International, Yokota, the American School in Japan and the host, Nile C. Kinnick. Red Devil players honorably selected to attend were graduating seniors Daniel Ross, Dion Williams; and returning players Ethan Olson, Bradley Burt and Chris Deibel, all of which will be juniors.
For the scouts, the point in the event was not focusing on picking players for the next level, but more so about their development in the future.“We’re just thrilled to death that these many people are out here,” said Cox. “These are some quality,good looking athletes. I was really impressed when I walked out. I don’t know what I was expecting but there’s some bodies here, some athletic-looking kids. That’s the first thing we’re looking for anyways.
Now you get into the god – given tools; arm strength, running speed, retrieving the ball, catching the ball.” Cox knows a thing or two about scouting. He was sent to Japan to scout ‘Godzilla’, Hideki Matsui, back when he was working for New York by Yankees’ General Manager and Senior Vice President, Brian Cashman. Cox began to reminisce about the media attention that Matsui was drawing in speculation of his eventual signing.
“You know the Japanese media here will drive you crazy; they’re going to write a story, whether it’s the truth or not,” said Cox as he went down memory lane. “There were times I would walk off the plane – nobody knew I was coming – and there would be 50 of them standing there, taking pictures.”
But for this event, the focus was on the future of baseball and not the past, with players receiving tips on batting, fielding and pitching techniques provided by Yabu.
‘Yu Darivsh vs. Masahiro Tanaka’
Amongst the topics of discussion by Yabu were body positioning on the mound and throwing motions, as well as how to recuperate after pitching a game. Yabu repeatedly used Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish as an example of a very good pitcher who is a combination of strength, ball control and technique.
“For left arm usage, if you are a right-handed pitcher, like Darvish, he uses his glove as a screen so the batter cannot see where the ball is coming from,” said Yabu. “In other words, he uses his elbow or he uses his glove as a shield. You can’t see when the ball comes up behind his head.”
Yabu continued to talk more on techniques until he was asked by an observer what he thought about New York Yankees pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka. “Tanaka is a great pitcher, but I am concerned about his pitching technique,” said Yabu. “I am afraid that he might hurt his shoulder in the future because he curves his hand, which is called ‘wrist curve’. I really don’t like that way of pitching. The positioning and twisting of his elbow (called a ‘wrap’) during his throwing motion may cause a lot of wear and tear on his shoulder later on in his career.
Graduating senior Daniel Ross takes the mound one final time
Upon completion of the clinic, a 4-inning all-star game was played. Ross took the mound in the top of the 2nd, facing four batters; walked one, striking out two and the last as a pop fly out. “What an awesome player, one of the best I have ever coached,” said Nile C. Kinnick head baseball coach, Chad Stark. “He is quite simply the captain of our team but, you would never know it because he is usually pretty quiet. But he is confident and still very coachable. He is also such an honest young man.”
Ross apparently has his fans.
“Ross has one of the best arms in all of the Kanto Plain,” said Gerald Deibel, father of Chris Deibel. “He is on point and has a head for the game. He usually gives up a hit or two early but seems unfazed; he tends to get faster and stronger late in games. He is just an awesome pitcher; one of the best pitchers I have ever seen play high school baseball.”
Amidst those in attendance witnessing his final march to the mound wearing a Red Devil jersey were his father Duane Ross, along with Daniels’ mother, Misaho and his younger sister, Dorothy. Daniel also has an older brother named Donald.
“They say it all goes by so fast, and boy you don’t realize it until it happens,” said Ross, while referring to his son being a graduating senior. “It’s just been an incredible feeling. My son is so humble. It’s not about him and he knows that because he was brought up in a Japanese baseball whole-team concept. He’s just one member; that’s the way I look at it too; he’s just one member of the team, he contributes the way that he can and it’s a team thing. What can I say; I am really proud of him.”
Ross finished the 2014 season at 62 innings pitched, with an earned run average of 1.89 and 73 strikeouts. He said at this point he is being looked at by several colleges but is undecided where he will go at this point.
“I would like to pitch at the next level, be it in the Nippon League or the Majors,” said Ross. “However, I am fully aware of the fact that an education is very important. Also, once I become 18 years old, I have to choose my nationality – decide whether I am an American citizen or a Japanese citizen. When that day comes as far as being drafted or picked up by a team, I will discuss that with my dad before I do anything.”
“At this stage in his development, I think that it is better for him to go straight to a four year university and work on his form and technique and pitching mechanics as well as gaining more muscle and strength,” said Yabu.
When asked if he felt that Ross has the ability to play on the Major League level, Yabu answered back rather confidently, “Yes he can. Daniel is strikingly similar in pitching style and size to Yu Darvish. As a teen, Darvish was tall and thin just like Daniel but, he added weight training to build and strengthen his body. I see Daniel doing the same.”
Coincidently, Darvish happens to be Daniels’ favorite player. “The guy that I really look up to is Yu Darvish,” said Ross. “He and I have physical similarities as far as being tall, bilingual and so forth. I mean, I am not as good as he is by any means but, I study his mechanics and how he throws. I try to pattern myself after him.”
‘The man with the quick hands and the quick bat’: What ‘can’t’ he do?
Senior Dion Williams said prior to the event that today was ‘just not my day’. But with his keen watchful eye of during Williams’ time in the batting cage, Cox would beg to differ. “You see how this young man is attacking the baseball,” said Cox to the other players waiting their turn to impress. “Look at that form. That’s how you swing the bat.” Williams’ 2014 season resulted in 68 at bats, with a .529 average, two home runs, 27 runs batted in and 24 stolen bases. He has fully committed an education to East Tennessee State University. He hopes to get to the campus and try to walk on to their baseball program.“The question is, what can’t he do?” said Kinnick head baseball coach Stark. “Dion is an exceptional player. He is an outstanding center fielder; he’s got a great arm, he’s fast and he’s a good hitter. He gets on base a lot; he is truly a high-caliber baseball player. Wherever he decides to go next year, he will be trying to make the team, which I am confident that he will – which ever college lands him will be very lucky. He’s just an all-around good baseball player.” Cox spoke of skillsets of players and again referred to Matsui. “When we talk about the five-tools, we’re talking about speed, arm strength, fielding, bat and power,” said Cox. “Hideki only had two; bat and power. So this means that guys with normally only two tools are not going to be world class players. But by spending a lot of time and keeping an eye on this guy – and he played a lot with below average speed in the Tokyo Dome – yet, every time I would come here I would marvel at his ability. But these things are also important; intelligence, heart, passion and guts.” Williams is viewed as a five-tool player.
“Last time I saw him, Dion had a problem with his pitching shoulder but now it looks better,” said Yabu. “But, I think his ability to be a shortstop is far better than being a pitcher. His technique as an outfielder is superb. He has the same problem as Daniel in that he just needs to grow more into his body. He reminds me of a professional player named Chone Figgins, who played for the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners (currently with the Los Angeles Dodgers). He has tremendous speed with very quick feet.”
Talking to Williams is similar to talking to Ross; humble and respectful, in love with the game of baseball, has nothing but respect for his family, teammates and his coaches, and has his own key to being successful.“Don’t be shy and be brave – that’s it,” said Williams. “If you have that nervous feeling, especially at the plate while batting, don’t be afraid. I think mental is first. I think all good players have to be mentally strong – in any sport.”
Williams attended Kinugasa Junior High School and Shonan Gaikuen High School, playing baseball for more than four years before coming to Kinnick his junior year. He credits his upbringing by his parents, as well as his educational experience in both Japanese and American school key to his development as a ballplayer – but more importantly as a person.
Upon completion of the game, the players gathered together for photos as a group with Yabu and were presented commemorative San Francisco Giants’ ball caps autographed by him. “It’s cool the scouts were here but, today was the same as always,” said Bradley Burt, a multi-role player who will be returning next season as a junior. “The biggest difference was that I had to catch a lot more today because of all the pitchers who were available.”
Teammates call him ‘The Business’ because of his businessman-like approach to the game. Burt said he is anxious to see how the team develops next year.“Next season we will probably have Chris Deibel as our ace,” said Burt. “I don’t think we will be as strong as we were this year but, I think as a team we will have more than enough to rebuild because we have a lot of people returning – mostly everyone is returning – so we will get better.”