Hayato Sakamoto (坂本 勇人)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 175 lb.
- High School Kosei Gakuin High School
Hayato Sakamoto set several "firsts" as a rookie in Japan.
Sakamoto was born a left-hander but learned to throw right-handed because he had a hand-me-down glove from his brother. Hayato debuted as a pro with the Yomiuri Giants in 2007, going 1 for 3 with a steal, run and 2 RBI.
Sakamoto hit .257/.297/.353 in 2008 and made the Central League All-Star team. Sakamoto became the first rookie to be in the Opening Day lineup of the Giants since Hideki Matsui. On April 6, he hit a grand slam off Kenta Abe, becoming the youngest CL player to hit a grand slam. He started every game as a rookie, the first CL player ever to do so in their second year out of high school - only two prior players had ever done it in Nippon Pro Baseball, superstars Futoshi Nakanishi and Kazuhiro Kiyohara. In the process, he bumped All-Star Tomohiro Nioka from the shortstop spot. Sakamoto finished second in voting for the 2008 Central League Rookie of the Year Award, behind teammate Tetsuya Yamaguchi. He was 3 for 18 with a walk, double and homer in the 2008 Japan Series. The home run was the first by a teenager in the Japan Series since Kiyohara in 1986.
Sakamoto improved significantly in 2009, hitting .306/.357/.466 with 33 doubles, 18 home runs and 87 runs, making another All-Star squad. He tied Hirokazu Ibata for 4th in the CL in average behind Alex Ramirez, Seiichi Uchikawa and Michihiro Ogasawara. He tied Norichika Aoki and Tony Blanco for the league lead in runs scored, was second in hits (178, 8 behind teammate Ramirez), was 4th in doubles (behind Masahiko Morino, Tomoaki Kanemoto and Ramirez), was 6th in total bases (271), tied Aaron Guiel for 5th in strikeouts (101), was 10th in OBP and was 10th in slugging. He finished 6th in the voting for the 2009 Central League Most Valuable Player Award. He was named to the Best Nine as the league's top shortstop.
Sakamoto kept on rolling in 2010 with a .281/.332/.504 batting line, 31 home runs, 107 runs and 85 RBI. He led the CL in runs (two ahead of Matt Murton), tied Murton for 5th in doubles (35), was 4th in total bases (307, between Kazuhiro Wada and Murton), ranked 7th in homers (between Kenji Johjima and Blanco), tied for second in sacrifice flies (7, one behind Takahiro Arai) and was 9th in slugging (between Johjima and Blanco). He set a Giants record for homers by a shortstop but failed to make the Best Nine as Takashi Toritani was picked instead.
Offensive numbers were down in Japan in 2011 with a new standard baseball and Hayato hit .262/.313/.401. He was among the CL leaders in runs (69, 3rd after Aoki and Toritani), doubles (27, tied for 3rd with Shuichi Murata), hits (149, 8th between Toritani and Arai), total bases (228, tied for 5th with Kazuhiro Hatakeyama and Wladimir Balentien), intentional walks (8, 1st) and strikeouts (91, 8th).
Sakamoto improved again in 2012, when the 23-year-old star produced at a .311/.359/.456 rate with 35 doubles, 16 steals in 17 tries and 87 runs. He was among the league leaders this time in almost every offensive department: average (2nd, .029 behind teammate Shinnosuke Abe), runs (1st, 3 ahead of teammate Hisayoshi Chono), hits (173, tied for first with Chono), doubles (1st, 3 over Wada), homers (14, tied for 6th with Chono and Shota Dobayashi), RBI (4th, between Ramirez and Blanco), steals (tied for 7th with Takahiro Suzuki), OBP (6th, between Wada and Hirokazu Ibata), slugging (4th, between Ramirez and Chono), OPS (3rd behind Abe and Lastings Milledge) and total bases (254, 2nd, 10 behind Abe). He helped the Giants to the 2012 Japan Series and 2012 Asia Series titles; in the latter event, he was named MVP, going 4 for 13 with 4 RBI.