Tatsuya Ozeki

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Tatsuya Ozeki (小関 竜也)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Outfielder Tatsuya Ozeki was a Pacific League Rookie of the Year who later made one Best Nine team.

Ozeki was a pitcher in high school and was drafted in the second round of the 1994 NPB draft by the Seibu Lions. Converted to the outfield, he led the Eastern League in stolen bases in 1996. He got into one game with Seibu in both 1996 and 1997. In '98, he became an outfield regular for the Lions. He broke his right pinky in June but became only the second fourth-year pro to win Rookie of the Year honors. He played error-free ball in the outfield and hit .283/.357/.370 and was 15 for 25 in steal attempts. He batted .190/.292/.333 in the 1998 Japan Series as Seibu fell.

In 1999, the youngster put up a .268/.363/.322 line, stole 16 of 24 and was again error-free. He batted .262/.353/.326 in 2000 and finally made a miscue on September 6, ending his error-free stretch at 658 consecutive chances.

Tatsuya improved to a .280/.363/.364 line in 2001 and he swiped 17 in 23 tries, his career-best in base-stealing. He only made one error in the field. Ozeki had his career year at age 25/26 in 2002. Never having hit more than 17 doubles before, he smacked 35. He set career highs in runs (59), walks (59) and RBI (50) while only striking out 25 times in 487 AB. He was just 15 for 25 in steals. He led the Pacific League with 43 sacrifice hits that year and was caught stealing the most in the PL. He won his only Gold Glove Award and fielded .996. In the 2002 Japan Series, he batted .267/.313/.267 and Seibu got swept by the Yomiuri Giants.

In 2003, the Seibu outfielder fell back towards his regular production with a .280/.320/.343 batting line, his lowest career OBP to that point. He stole 9 of 12, the last season he ran regularly, and led the league again in sacrifice hits (32 this time). His .986 fielding was his lowest to that point as well.

Ozeki lost his right field job to Tomoaki Sato as the 2004 season progressed; overall, Tatsuya batted .269/.334/.360 and fielded .992. In the 2004 Japan Series, he was 1 for 6 with a double and two walks in a backup role as Seibu won a title for the first time in his career. In '05, an elbow injury and poor production (.198/.296/.256) limited him to 86 AB and 47 games. He became Seibu's Japan Professional Baseball Players Association representative that year. After the season, he got into a salary dispute with the Lions and was released at his request in November so he could pursue options in Major League Baseball.

Despite his run of poor seasons and only one very good campaign ,he did find interest in the USA and was signed to a minor-league deal by the Milwaukee Brewers. Unfortunately, it was late in the going and the Brewers had used up their legally alloted number of work visas, so he returned to Japan, where he signed with Yomiuri. He started off well, but never got regular playing time and batted .258/.286/.320 in 128 AB in 2006, slipping as the year progressed.

Ozeki only played five games for the 2007 Giants, going 1 for 4 with a home run. He hit .215/.284/.258 in 49 games for Yomiuri in 2008. In 2009, he again tried to make it to the USA, but he failed to earn a contract after trying out with the Colorado Rockies.

Through 2006, his career batting line reads .278/.346/.354 with 210 sacrifice hits.

Main Source: Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland