Starting Over: Masumi Kuwata

An interesting story — an interesting player:
MASUMI�KUWATA
born:� 4/1/1968�� in Osaka, Japan
Ht:� 5′ 8″��� Wt:� 176�lb������ B: Right���� T: Right
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Masumi Kuwata seemed to have done it all as a veteran pitcher in Japan.� But there was one more thing he wanted to accomplish:� he wanted to be a major league pitcher in the US.� So, after 20 years as a star in�Japan, he has come to the US, to the Pirates, to start over as a rookie.� Maybe even as a minor leaguer.
Kuwata first drew attention as a high school pitcher.��After high school, he was drafted�by the Yomiuri Giants,�the most prominent team in Japan�–�picture the New York Yankees/Evil Empire and magnify that by ten or so.� His first season, 1986,�was not overwhelming, but in his second year, he was overpowering.� He�had a 15 – 6 record, led the league with a 2.17 ERA, won a Gold Glove award, and was named to the All-Star team in 1987.� Over the next seven years, Kuwata was named to the All-Star team six more times, and won four more Gold Gloves.� He had some excellent years, in which his records looked like: 17 – 9, and 16 – 8.� Then he had some disappointing years, when he lost more games than he won.� Overall for those seven years, his record was 89 – 75, with a 3.21 ERA.�He was a huge star in Japan, with a large fan base, and media following him everywhere.� In 1995,�after pitching in only 9 games, he injured his elbow and had surgery,�and was out for the rest of that season and the next.�
Kuwata returned to the field in 1997, posting a 10 – 7 record with a 3.77�ERA, winning another Gold Glove and making the All-Star team again.� In 1998 he had another winning year, 16 – 5, but with a 4.08 ERA, and he did win�a Gold Glove again.� The next couple of years were not as good, and Kuwata made several relief appearances in addition to his starts.� The 2002 season brought a complete turn-around — he went 12 – 6,�led the league with a 2.22 ERA, and won yet another Gold�Glove.� The�next three seasons were again disappointing.� His record over those three seasons was 8�- 15, with a cumulative 6.47�ERA.� At that point, Kuwata considered a move to the US, but there were visa issues, and his record in the past few seasons was not encouraging.� Kuwata started the 2006 season with�a 1 -1 record and a 6.94 ERA, but then�injured his ankle.� He�was sent down to the equivalent of the minor leagues, where he appeared in only 6 games.� At the end of the season, Yomiuri released him.� His career record in Japan is 173 wins, 141 losses, and 14 saves, with a 3.42 ERA and 1980 strikeouts (20th on the all-time list).� He hit well for a pitcher, with a .216 AVG in 890 AB’s, 34 doubles, 5 triples, and 7 HR’s.� He won a total of eight Gold Gloves, two ERA titles, one MVP award, and eight All-Star appearances.
During all that time, Kuwata had the dream of pitching in the US.� As long ago as the early 1990’s, he thought about coming to the US, but that wasn’t an option at the time.� As his career continued, the Yomiuri Giants would�not give him permission to leave.� When he did well in 1997, six US teams were interested in him, but still Yomiuri would not give up their rights to him.��After he was released�at the end of the 2006 season, he finally was free to pursue a move to the US.� Both the Pirates and the Boston Red Sox were interested.� Kuwata chose carefully.� Pirates’ manager Jim Tracy played in Japan in 1983 and 1984, and Pirates’ pitching coach Jim Colborn coached in Japan for four years, and he felt that the Pirates would be a good match.
Kuwata reported to Pirates’ spring training as a non-roster invitee.� Pirates’ management made it pretty clear from the start that while�they�had signed Kuwata to be a starting pitcher,�Kuwata was not going be immediately plugged into the Pirates’ rotation.� In fact, he is all but certain to start 2007 with Indianapolis.� Kuwata�has said that going to the minors is fine with him — it is still baseball, and it is still American baseball, and he is going to be enjoying the new experience.� He has pitched in four spring training games for the Pirates, going a total of�5 innings and giving up 6 hits and 3 earned runs — though all three runs came in one 2-inning appearance on March 9th.� His progress has been hindered by an ankle sprain, though he has pitched two innings since then without giving up a run.� He brings some special qualities to the mix:� veteran experience and maturity, command of the strike zone, and a Japanese-style work ethic.� And he brings something else that has been a source of amazement in Bradenton, and will be astonishing in Indianapolis:� a small army of media entourage following him almost everywhere.��Kuwata is comfortable with the media attention, since they have been�following him for more than 20 years now.��If�he can show� some strong pitching in Indianapolis, he will be happy to have them follow him back to Pittsburgh.
NOTES:�
Video of Kuwata’s last appearance with the Yomiuri Giants:� YouTube.� The audio is in Japanese, but it isn’t hard to guess what they are saying.
Isn’t it interesting that the name “Giants” is on their jerseys in English, the players’ names on the back of the jerseys is in Western-style lettering, and the numbers are in Western/Arabic digits — rather than Japanese symbols and characters?
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Reassignments:� Pitchers Sean Burnett and Shane Youman were optioned to Indianapolis, and Kevin Gryboski was�reassigned to the minor league camp today.� All three should be on the Indy Indians’ roster for the start of the season.��
In today’s Grapefruit League game, the Pirates beat the Minnesota Twins by a score of 13 – 7.� The Pirates had a hit parade — 17 hits.� Brad Eldred went 3 for 4, with a 2-run homer and 3 RBI.� Don Kelly went 1 for 5 with a double, and Andrew McCutcheon went 2 for 2 with a stand-up triple that bounced off the top of the outfield wall.� A few players from the minor league camp got into the game:� Steve Lerud, Taber Lee,�Dan Schwartzbauer, Brad Corley, and Luis Ordaz.
At the start of spring training, the Pirates had Andrew McCutcheon slated to start the season�in Altoona.� Now he has forced them to reevaluate – and the rumors now are that the Pirates are planning to start McCutcheon in Indianapolis.�
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Go Tribe!

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Spring Training Update: Your Rotation Sleeper

During my appearance on Thursday’s Sportsocracy podcast (Caution: mediocre Pirates analysis and explicit language after the link), I was asked an interesting question: Are you a Duke guy or a Snell guy? Allegedly, there are only two schools of thought. Now, I knew it was coming so I had a chance to prepare, but still, it’s a tough one to answer concisely. I punted at first, offering up Snell’s social appeal—as...

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Buccos 2007; For once and for all, will THIS be the year ??

Hey all, thought I’d drop ya’ll a line or two. Heaven knows, Cory and Randy give you a plethora of Bucs-related information already. I’m sure you haven’t been sitting there thinking, “Gee, when’s Tony gonna post again.” The answer to that is “check the MVN Pens’ page”. LOL, talk about plethoras. Anyway, let me give you some of my thoughts heading into this year for the Bucs,...

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Wave the magic wand at Neil Walker

Another hometown player for the Pirates:
NEIL WALKER
third base/catcher
born:� 9/10/1985�� in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Ht: 6′ 3″������ Wt:� 210 lb
B: Both���� T: Right
For Neil Walker, baseball is the family business.� His father, Tom, was a major league pitcher in the 1970’s with the Expos, Tigers, Cardinals, and Angels.� His uncle, Chip Lang, was also a pitcher for the Expos in 1975 -76.� Older brother Matt was drafted by the Tigers in 2000, and played in the Tigers’ and Orioles’ minor league systems.� Neil’s sister is married to Pirates’ infielder Don Kelly.� Walker grew up in the Pittsburgh area — another hometown player for the Pirates crew.�
Walker was chosen by the Pirates in the first round of the 2004 draft.� He started his professional career shortly afterwards with the GCL Pirates, where he played in 52 games and hit .271 AVG with 4 HR’s and 20 RBI’s.� He played 8 games with Williamsport, where he had 10 hits and 7 RBI in 32 AB’s.� Walker was advanced to Hickory to begin the 2005 season.� He spent most of the season with the Crawdads, and was named to the South Atlantic League�All-Star team.� He hit�.301�AVG, with 12 HR’s and 68 RBI.� He also had 22 passed balls during the season, and threw out 37% of baserunners attempting to steal against him.� On August 26th, he was promoted to Lynchburg to finish out the season.� In that brief stint, he had 11 hits and 12 RBI in 42 AB’s.��There was a setback though — on December 2nd, he had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his wrist.
Because of the surgery, Walker got off to a late start for the 2006 season.� Despite his injury, he was named the Pirates #1 prospect by Baseball America.� After�rehab, he returned to Lynchburg in mid-May,�and returned to form quickly.� He hit .284 AVG with 3 HR and 35 RBI, and he threw out 29% of batters trying to steal.� Walker�represented the Pirates�in the Major League Futures game during the All-Star break.� On August 15th, he was promoted to Altoona, though his time there was limited due to a viral illness that put him on the DL for a week.� He had 5 hits in 31 AB’s, with 2 HR’s and 3 RBI.� Walker also played in the Arizona Fall League, for the Grand Canyon Rafters.� He appeared in 18 games, hitting .290 AVG with 8 RBI.
Walker reported to the Pirates’ major league spring training camp as a non-roster invitee.� The Pirates’ management quickly waved their magic wand at Walker — POOF! — Walker was transformed into a third baseman!� The decision to move Walker to third was based on high expectations of his potential at the plate, combined with their expectations that Ronny Paulino is going to be the Pirates’ catcher for the forseable future.� Walker had not played anything but catcher or DH during the time he has been with the Pirates’ organization.� The last time he played in the infield was when he was in high school.� But, he’s a smart, adaptable, and athletic guy, and he has taken to third base very quickly.� He has done well with the bat during Grapefruit League games.� He has 10 hits,�including three doubles and a home run, in 28 AB’s.� Walker is expected to return to Altoona to begin the 2007 season, where he will continue to work at learning the third base position.� If he continues to do as well as he has during spring training, he could be promoted to Indianapolis during the season.�
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OTHER�NOTES:
�An article about Sean Burnett in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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Go Tribe!

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Spring Training Update: Bucs vs. TOR and NYY; Bautista to Start at 3B

The Pirates slipped to 8(+1)-14-1 in Grapefruit League play yesterday, as they lost to the Blue Jays, 5-3. Neither Jason Bay nor Adam LaRoche made the trip to Dunedin. Andrew McCutchen, Brian Bixler and Neil Walker all saw playing time. Jose Bautista played third, and Jose Castillo stayed home. Brad Eldred connected with one of Roy Halladay’s fastballs, knocking it out of the yard for his fifth home run of the spring....

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Stat Rats #3 — Answers

Answers to #3:
How much did you remember from 2006?
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For the Pirates’ minor league affiliates in 2006:
1. Which position player had the highest batting average (min 200 at bats)?
AAA – Indianapolis Indians — Carlos Maldonado�� .354
AA – Altoona Curve — Nyjer Morgan�� .306
A+ – Lynchburg Hillcats — Brent Lillibridge�� .313
A – Hickory Crawdads — Jason Delaney�� .300
A- Williamsport Crosscutters (last year’s affiliate) (at least 100 AB’s)– Angel Gonzalez��� .274
GCL Pirates (at least 60 AB’s) — Jared Keel��� .432
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Bonus:� the pitchers with the highest batting average, for AAA and AA levels:
Indianapolis Indians — Terry Adams�� .500�� (in 2 AB’s)
Altoona Curve� –� Wardell Starling���.368�� (in 19 AB’s)
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2. Which batter had the most triples?
Indianapolis Indians –�� Rich Thompson��� 6
Altoona Curve –� Vic Buttler�� 14��� (!!!)
Lynchburg Hillcats –� Michael Carlin�� 6
Hickory Crawdads –� Brent Lillibridge�� 5
Williamsport Crosscutters — Alexander Presley�� 8
GCL Pirates� –� Smelin Perez�� 3
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3. Which player had the most stolen bases?
Indianapolis Indians� –� Rajai Davis��� 45
Altoona Curve� –� Nyjer Morgan and Vic Buttler��� 21 each
Lynchburg Hillcats� –� Pedro Powell��� 63
Hickory Crawdads� –� Brent Lillibridge�� 29
Williamsburg Crosscutters� –� Angel Gonzalez��� 15
GCL Pirates� –� Jose De Los Santos�� 18
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How did you do?
GAME NOTES:
This afternoon’s Pirates’ game was highlighted by a 3-run homerun by Brad Eldred.� Michael Ryan went 1 for 4, and Don Kelly went 1 for 3.� Eldred now leads the team in homers, with five.�
The Indy Indians won their first spring training game this afternoon, beating the Pawtucket Red Sox 4 – 3.� Brian Rogers pitched two innings, giving up one hit and striking out 3 to get the win.� Matt Peterson got the save, pitching to three batters in the ninth.� Three Indians batters had two hits apiece:� LF Nyjer Morgan, C David Parrish, and SS Luis Ordaz.� Morgan also had a stolen base.� Morgan, CF Rajai Davis, and DH Mike Edwards each had RBI singles in the fifth inning.
Go Tribe!

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