Kenta Kurihara (栗原 健太)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 209 lb.
- High School Nichidai Yamagata High School
Kurihara hit 39 home runs in high school. The Hiroshima Carp drafted him in the third round in 1999. He battled injury early in his career. In 2002, he made it onto the Carp roster for the first time, going 4 for 22 with 2 doubles and a home run. His first hit in Nippon Pro Baseball was a homer of Kyuji Fujikawa on September 5; it was the first homer Fujikawa had allowed in 2002. He hit .276/.286/.408 in 26 games in 2003; he spent most of the year in ni-gun, leading the Western League in home runs (13) and RBI (53).
In 2004, Kurihara hit .267/.292/.422 in 90 games for Hiroshima. He was the primary backup to Takahiro Arai at first base and Kenjiro Nomura at third base. Kurihara made major strides at age 23, batting .323/.366/.563 with 15 HR and 43 RBI in 254 AB in 2005. He backed up Nomura at first base, while Arai got almost all the playing time at third.
Kurihara produced at a .295/.330/.507 clip in 2006 with 20 home runs and 69 RBI in 373 AB. He took over as Hiroshima's first baseman. He was 4th on the club in circuit clouts, five behind team leader Arai. He missed time late in the year due to herniated disc surgery.
Kurihara hit .310/.361/.512 with 37 doubles, 25 home runs, 77 runs and 92 RBI in 2007. He was 5th in the Central League in average, trailing Norichika Aoki, Alex Ramirez, Yoshitomo Tani and Michihiro Ogasawara. He ranked second in doubles (4 behind Ramirez), 4th in hits (175), 10th in runs, 5th in total bases (289), 8th in RBI and 7th in slugging.
With Arai leaving as a free agent following 2007, Kurihara became Hiroshima's cleanup hitter. He did not miss a beat, putting up a batting line of .332/.389/.515 with 31 doubles, 23 home runs and 103 RBI in 2008. He was third in the CL in average, trailing Seiichi Uchikawa and Aoki. He finished second in hits (185, 4 behind Uchikawa), 4th in doubles, 4th in RBI (103, behind Ramirez, Shuichi Murata and Ogasawara), 9th in homers, 7th in OBP and 10th in slugging and tied Yasushi Iihara for the most times hit by pitch (12). In a rare occurrence, he split Gold Glove honors with Arai at first. Despite his impressive season, he was not in the running for the Best Nine as Uchikawa won in a landslide at first base.
Following 2008, Kurihara had elbow surgery. He was named to Japan's preliminary roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, likely aided by Arai's absence due to back problems. He was then added to Japan's squad before the semifinals after Shuichi Murata was injured. Kurihara struck out twice in 3 at-bats in the Classic and ground into a double play the other time up, but Japan went on to win the title.
Through 2008, Kurihara has hit .307/.351/.502 in 592 games in NPB.
Primary Source: Japan Baseball Daily by Gary Garland