Yuhei Takai (高井 雄平)
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 5' 9", Weight 172 lb.
- High School Tohoku High School
Yuhei Takai topped .300 several times after beginning his career as a pitcher.
Takai was his high school's pitching ace; Yu Darvish was one of their other (younger) pitchers.  Throwing 93 mph, he drew some interest from MLB teams (he also threw a slider, curveball and forkball).  He was taken by the Yakult Swallows in the first round of the 2002 NPB draft. He was 5-6 with a 5.03 ERA in 2003, joining Masanori Ishikawa, Jason Beverlin, Yuya Kamada and Kevin Hodges in the Yakult rotation. He led the Central League with twelve wild pitches, two ahead of Yuya Kubo and Shinya Okamoto.
He only pitched nine games in 2004 (4-2, 4.41), spending time back in the minors. In 2005, he had a 4-4, 4.52 campaign. He was 2-1 with a 6.51 ERA in 2006, now working as a LOOGY (27 2/3 IP in 36 G). He was ejected June 17 after one pitch, plunking Kazuya Fukuura.  He also threw three wild pitches in one inning October 12. His 8 wild pitches tied Takumi Nasuno for third in the CL despite his limited action. The former prospect was 3-6 with a save and a 5.19 ERA in 52 games (43 1/3 IP) in 2007. He led Yakult in appearances, two ahead of Masao Kida. He lost a lot of velocity on his fastball in 2008 and only made one appearance for the top club (2 BB, HR in 2/3 IP). He was better for the Waikiki Beach Boys in the Hawaii Winter Baseball league (2-2, 4.05), forming a rotation with Andrew Brackman, Waldis Joaquin, Jeremy Bleich and Mitsuo Yoshikawa; only Bleich had a better ERA for the team. In 2009, he only pitched one inning for the top team (0-2, 6.94 in 29 games on the farm). That ended his pitching career. He had gone 18-19 with a 4.96 ERA in 144 NPB games.
Takai then moved to the outfield; he had hit .213 with one homer (coming off Atsushi Nohmi) while being a pitcher but it was apparently he had little future on the hill. The move certainly would pay off. In 2010, he batted .283/.318/.371 in the minors then improved to .330/.382/.480 in 2011. He led the minor Eastern League in average (.005 ahead of Tomoya Inzen) and doubles (one ahead of Ryuichi Kajimae) while only Katsuya Kakunaka had a better OPS. 
By 2012, he had made it back to the big club, batting .280/.313/.308 while backing up Tsuyoshi Ueda in center field. He hit .297/.395/.622 in 43 plate appearances in 2013, losing most of the season to a knee injury.  Back and healthy, he had a career year in 2014. He produced at a .316/.372/.505 clip with 28 doubles, 23 home runs, 97 runs, 90 RBI and 10 steals in 12 tries while starting in right field for the Swallows. He was among the CL leaders in batting average (6th, between Takashi Toritani and Hector Luna), runs (3rd, 9 behind Yoshihiro Maru and Tetsuto Yamada), hits (173, 6th, between Shingo Kawabata and Toritani), homers (5th; only Yamada had more among Japanese natives), RBI (3rd, trailing Mauro Gomez and Brad Eldred), OBP (8th, between Yoshi Tsutsugo and Masahiko Morino), slugging (5th, between Tsutsugo and Luna), OPS (6th, between Luna and Eldred), total bases (276, 2nd, 45 behind Yamada), outfield putouts (316, 1st) and outfield errors (7, 1st). He joined Matt Murton and Maru in being named to the Best Nine as the CL's top three outfielders and got one third-place vote for the 2014 Central League Most Valuable Player Award.  He made his first CL All-Star team as well. In 2014 NPB All-Star Game 1, he started in right and played the whole game. He struck out and flew out against Yuki Nishi, grounded out against Hiroyuki Fukuyama and struck out against Tatsuya Sato.  In Game 2, he started in right and again played the entire contest, moving to left. He fanned against Chihiro Kaneko, flew out against Takahiro Norimoto, grounded out against Dennis Sarfate and singled off Fukuyama. 
He played for Japan against Team Europe in March 2015, helping his country avoid an upset. Down 3-1 entering the 8th, he drove in the game-winner off Loek van Mil.  In 2015 NPB All-Star Game 1, he pinch-ran for José López and replaced Ryosuke Hirata in right field.  He started Game 2 in right and grounded out three times (versus Yoshikawa, his former Waikiki teammate, Brandon Dickson and Ken Togame) before being replaced by Hirata.  His numbers were well down for the year: .270/.307/.388, 8 HR, 55 R, 60 RBI though his doubles did improve to 33 (tying Kosuke Tanaka for 4th in the CL). He was 3 for 20 with a double and a run as Yakult fell to the dynastic Softbank Hawks in the 2015 Japan Series. 
Takai rebounded somewhat in 2016 to .296/.329/.396 and stole seven bases in eight tries; he fielded .990 and had seven assists. Had he qualified (he was 8 plate appearances shy), he would have edged Tomotaka Sakaguchi for 10th in the CL in average. In 2017, the veteran batted .306/.343/.402; he had qualified, he would have been 6th in the CL in average (between Maru and López). He became the 12th player to hit four doubles in a game.  He hit .318/.365/.439 in 2018 to place 7th in average (between Seiya Suzuki and Toshiro Miyazaki).
He hit .273/.327/.396 with 12 homers and 19 doubles in 2019, fielding .990. By 2020, he was down to a back-up role, hitting .223/.265/.262 in 43 CL games and .319/.379/.407 in 34 games back in the minors, his first regular action there in eight years.
Through 2020, he has hit .291/.335/.414 with 386 RBI in 968 NPB games.
- Defunct Japan Baseball Daily site by Gary Garland
- 2011 EL leaders
- Japanese Wikipedia
- 2014 NPB award voting
- Wayback Archive, 2014 NPB All-Star Game 1, Yakyubaka
- Wayback Archive, 2014 NPB All-Star Game 2, Yakyubaka
- World Baseball and Softball Confederation
- Wayback Archive, 2015 NPB All-Star Game 1, Yakyubaka
- Wayback Archive, 2015 NPB All-Star Game 2, Yakyubaka
- 2015 Japan Series
- Japanese Wikipedia