Shisa Spring Report

Updated: March 28, 2017

Shiba Taguchi, Ryukyu Sports News

Tuba City, ArizonaMarch 31, 2025: Heading into 2025, the Shisa are looking to build on the momentum generated by their first winning season in the PEBA. With the finishing touches on their brand new, state of the art, fifty-five thousand seat stadium, Shisa Stadium II, now being completed, and the difficult transition years from LRS to PEBA apparently behind them, there is a sense around the club and in Naha that we are entering a new era of Okinawa baseball. Hope is very much alive in Shisaland and there is renewed excitement, and heightened expectations, for the club. Last year the Okinawa front office was able to turn the Shisa into a run prevention machine, as their runs allowed dropped from 777 in 2024, to 613 in 2025. The Okinawa rotation, in particular, made a great leap forward, shaving 1.21 runs of their collective ERA (from 4.56 in 2023 to 3.35 in 2024). All of those starters return in 2025, though they one year older. One area that definitely needs improvement in 2025, however, is the offense, which scored 51 fewer runs last year than the year before. In 2024, the offensive production from infielders not named Bothwell was pitiful. The few moves the team made in the off-season appear to be directed at addressing this shortcoming, as well as covering some departures from the bullpen. Expect slight regression from the pitching staff, along with a modest increase in offensive production, which will likely put the Shisa in a similar position this season, around 84 wins.

Players In

3B Ken Keddy (trade with San Antonio) 0.8 WAR

2B Shoichi Koyama (free agent signing) 2.2 WAR

SS José López (promoted) 0.5 WAR

RP Glenn Martin (free agent signing) 0.6 WAR

RP Gary Stanley (free agent signing) 0.4 WAR

CF Troy Tanner (free agent signing) 1.4 WAR

Total 5.9 WAR

Players Out

RP Ismael Hernández (released) 1.4 WAR

2B Chris Holmes (contract expired) 1.4 WAR

RP Jorge Jiménez (released) -0.3 WAR

RP Nolan Kuhn (released) -0.2 WAR

RP Kenzo Nemoto (released) 0.0 WAR

C Ray Pattullo (released) -0.2 WAR

OF Salvador Rodríguez (non-tendered) 0.7 WAR

RF Avery Sorensen (released) 0.1 WAR

Total 2.9 WAR

The Pressing Question: Does the Rotation have a Repeat Performance in Them?

The Shisa front office believes that it’s found some success and stability with the current rotation. In fact, if all goes well, 2025 will look very familiar to Okinawa fans. How likely are Shisa starters to perform at the same high level this season? It would be a surprise, though no more a surprise than last year’s numbers, if the Okinawa starters manage not to regress at least a little bit. The x-factor for the staff is catcher Ray Tuff. Pitchers and scouts swear by his ability to call a game and frame a pitch. Injuries limited his innings in 2024, and he’ll be turning thirty-four this season, which is a gazillion in catcher years. Let’s take a look at the starting pitchers, one by one.

We’ll start with the acknowledged staff ace, Félix ‘Cyclone’ Maese (2024 ERA+ 121), last season’s runner-up for the Sovereign League Golden Arm Award. Maese struck out batters at a personal best clip of 7.1 per nine innings in 2024, which tells us something about the sort of pitcher he is. Canny, and with a great deal of movement on not just on his splitter, but his four seamer as well, Maese is happy pitching to contact early in the count. With a good defense behind him, Félix tends to do just fine. And the defense should be, if anything, slightly improved in 2025. Cyclone pitched a lot of innings in 2024. In fact, the 228 2/3 inning workload Maese shouldered was the greatest number of innings he has ever pitched in a single season, and the most innings he has pitched in a season since 2019. It’s difficult to predict what effect his 2024 workload might have on his 2025 performance. Maese has had trouble with his throwing shoulder in the past, and it would not be a great surprise to see that come up again this year. However, Cyclone has looked just fine this spring and says that his arm is in good shape.

Yoshihisa Sato (2024 ERA+ 117) had to make some adjustments last season when he came over to the PEBA from the ‘LRS’ last season. Used to mowing batters down in Japan, Sato had to alter his approach on the mound in the PEBA, where swinging strikes were harder to come by, and he did so effectively last year, posting an ERA of 3.32. The even-keeled Sato will be entering his age 36 season in 2025, and one naturally wonders how many years he has left in him as an effective starter, and some regression seems inevitable as he approaches forty. Typically, aging pitchers first notice a drop off in velocity, and Sato’s velocity this spring has dropped a little bit (94-96 mph versus 95-97 mph last year), so it appears that father time is starting to catch up with him.

Perhaps no one has reason to be happier with a move to Okinawa than Bill Lewis (2024 ERA+ 134). In 2022 it looked like his career might be over. He made sixteen starts for the Dinosaurs that year, with a 6.07 ERA. Numbness in the little finger, ring finger, and palm of his throwing hand had wrecked is command, and Fargo put him on the disabled list. He was diagnosed with ulnar nerve compression and underwent a procedure known as ulnar nerve anterior transposition to relieve pressure on the nerve and ultimately restore sensation to his hand. Both the procedure and subsequent rehabilitation were deemed a success by his doctors, though the Dinosarus declined to extend Lewis and he became a free agent. When Okinawa signed him, they figured they could put Lewis in the bullpen if he couldn’t make it as a starter, to take advantage of his fastball-changeup combination, but Bill has stuck as a starter, his only serious injury in two seasons being a strained hamstring he got running the bases. A repeat of his 2.89 ERA season last year seems unlikely, as he was greatly helped by a eyebrow-raising .223 BABIP.

It seems like Tsuginori Honma (2024 ERA+ 116) has been around Okinawa forever, and yet he’s only twenty-seven. He made his first appearance for the Shisa in 2018, the same year they drafted him out of college with the tenth overall pick. It has been an up and down ride since then, with more downs than ups since the team came to the PEBA, but last year Honma appeared to finally put it all together, using pinpoint accuracy (walking just 23 batters in 196 2/3 innings pitched) to keep himself out of trouble. If Honma is able to string two good seasons together, however, it will be for the first time in his professional career.

Cristo Santiago (2024 ERA+ 109) is looking to get back on track. The veteran starter saw his strikeout rate (which has never been exceptional) fall to unseen depths in 2024, a mere 3.9 per nine innings pitched. He spent part of last year in the bullpen, and may find himself there again if he gets off to a slow start in 2025. Can he put up a 3.54 ERA again? His 2024 FIP of 3.99 suggests that it’s possible, if he can get the strikeout rate back out of the gutter.

The Position Battle: Third Base

After watching Tsukasa Okada struggle last season in his return to Okinawa (84 OPS+), the front office made a dramatic move this winter, acquiring Ken Keddy (and his sixteen million dollar salary) from San Antonio. The truth is that both players need to have bounce-back seasons if either is to hold down the third base position in 2025. As it happens, only one of these infielders is playing with any sense of urgency this spring. The thirty-six year old Okada has played like his hair is on fire this spring (.313/.452/.656). If he can carry that momentum over into games that count, he’ll surely get playing time somewhere. His offensive performance has some in the club talking about possibly playing Tsukasa at first and using Red Hook as a designated hitter, but this is optimistic. Ken has had a slow start this spring (.614 OPS), but the good news for the Shisa is that Keddy, whose level of effort over the years has been charitably called ‘uneven’, is in the last year of his present contract, and his two best OPS+ years to date (2019 and 2023) were both walk years. The Okinawa front office is hoping that he stays true to form in that respect.

The Big Prospect: José López

After using this space to question the wisdom behind calling LF Jerry Rutledge up for full-time duty on the major league roster last year, and seeing Rutledge do nothing but go to the all-star game, win the all-leather award in left field, and be named the 2024 SL Wunderkind, I have some trepidation about expressing misgivings concerning the club’s handling of shortstop José López. Nevertheless, it is remarkable how quickly José has gone from amateur to potential Shisa starter, which does not at all resemble the trajectory of Rutledge, who spent two years in the minors after five years as a collegian.

López, whom the Shisa took in the second round of the 2024 draft out of the University of Houston, played eleven games at single-a, fifty-six games at double-a, and has not returned to the minors since being called up by Okinawa, where he appeared in twenty-one games last year. In the short time he has spent in the PEBA, López has posted a .246/.328/.368 slash line. His .697 OPS, if sustainable, would be a dramatic improvement over the team’s other options, and historical offensive production, at the position. In the field, López has looked like a finished product, so the team has expressed no worries of a drop-off in defensive quality in that spot with José in the lineup. Since GM Morris Ragland took the helm, the Shisa organization has not, as a rule, rushed players to the majors, so the front office has probably earned the benefit of the doubt here.

All the same, twenty-one games do not make for a very large sample size, and one imagines that there is a reason that fifty-nine other players were drafted ahead of López last year. It would be a surprise if José is able to put up similar numbers for an entire season, though his spring output (.684 OPS) seems to be largely in line with that. If the team gets 3.0 WAR out of López over the course of the season, that would definitely be a win, but 1.5-2.0 WAR seems more likely.

The Nagging Problem: Flagging Infield Offense

To be clear, offense is down throughout the alliance, with both leagues posting record low batting averages and ERAs in 2024, but the Okinawa offense fell off noticeably last season. Runs scored dropped from 709 in 2023 to 658 in 2024. Team OBP dropped from .319 to .298. Strikeouts rose from 1157 to 1410. If the Shisa could have paired decent offensive production with their over achieving pitching staff last season, a deep playoff run would have been the likely outcome.

Nowhere was Okinawa’s offensive malaise more evident than in the infield. Shisa second basemen put up a collective .583 OPS. The team’s third basemen posted a .579 OPS, and shortstops managed a breathtakingly anemic .479 OPS.

As was previously noted, the team called up shortstop José López last season in an effort to get something going at the plate, and the addition of Ken Keddy may or may not pan out. The team has also acquired former Cliff Hanger Shoichi Koyama to play second base. Koyama somehow commanded a two-year, sixteen million dollar contract this off-season, which comes as a surprise, given that he’s never garnered a salary as high as even two million dollars in his professional career up to that point. The Shisa front office may have greatly overreached, based on a single season in which Koyama posted a 2.2 WAR and 111 OPS+ in seventy-three games in Kalamazoo, but there’s certainly no denying the intent to improve the team. Keddy, Koyama, and López all bring quality defense to the table, so the only real concern is whether they can contribute offensively to a club that just needs a bit of a nudge to enter the postseason in 2025.