Yuki Yanagita (柳田 悠岐)
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 6' 2", Weight 203 lb.
Yuki Yanagita has been a star outfielder in Nippon Pro Baseball.
Yanagita won four Hiroshima Big Six University League batting titles, once taking the MVP; he peaked at .528 in the spring of 2009. He was also timed at 92 mph as a pitcher. The Softbank Hawks took him in the second round of the 2010 draft after taking Ayatsugu Yamashita in the first round. Motoyasu Wakai was the scout.
He made his NPB debut as a pinch-runner for Alex Cabrera. He did not get his first at-bat until over a month later, when he batted for Takehito Kanazawa in an interleague game and grounded out against Kazuki Yoshimi. He was 0 for 5 with 3 strikeouts and a run as a rookie in 2011. With the Criollos de Caguas in the Puerto Rican Winter League, he hit .271/.329/.443, similar numbers to the starting left fielder, Edgard Clemente.
His first NPB hit was off Mitsuo Yoshikawa on June 23, 2012 and his first home run came off Hironori Matsunaga. For the season, he batted .246/.300/.385, playing center field regularly the last few months when regular CF Yuya Hasegawa was moved to the corner spots. Backing up Hasegawa again in 2013, he continued to make strides, improving his batting line to .295/.377/.483 with 19 doubles and 11 home runs in 298 AB and 10 steals in 11 tries.
Yanagita became the starting center fielder for the Hawks in 2014, Hasegawa moving to right field and RF Akira Nakamura moving to first base. He hit .317/.413/.452 with 15 home runs, 33 stolen bases (only caught six times) and 91 runs. The lone negative was six errors, leading Pacific League outfielders. He made his first PL All-Star team. In 2014 NPB All-Star Game 1, he replaced Hasegawa in left field and drew a walk from Shoichi Ino his first time up. He batted again in the 8th and grounded out against Tetsuya Yamaguchi in a 7-0 loss to the Central League. He started game 2 in center and leading off and put on a show. He led off the game with a single off Shintaro Fujinami, stole second and came home on a Yoshio Itoi single. In the second, he singled off Fujinami again. He flew out against Tomoyuki Sugano in the 4th but then took Daisuke Yamai deep to open the 6th. He singled off Yamai to open the 7th and scored his third run of the day. He finally flew out against Kam Mickolio in the 9th, having gone 4-for-6 in a 12-6 win. He was named game MVP. He was the 17th player in NPB All-Star Game history to have a four-hit game and the second Hawks player to do so, following Hiromitsu Kadota by 38 years. For the season, he finished among the PL leaders in numerous departments: average (third, after Itoi and Ginji Akaminai), OBP (2nd, .011 behind Itoi), slugging (10th, between Dae-ho Lee and Kazuo Matsui), runs (1st, one ahead of Haruki Nishikawa), hits (166, tied for 3rd with Itoi), RBI (70, tied for 10th with Akaminai), steals (2nd, 10 behind Nishikawa), walks (72, 5th), strikeouts (131, 4th, between Nishikawa and Nakamura) and hit-by-pitch (16, 2nd, one behind Takahiro Okada). He joined Itoi and Sho Nakata as the Best Nine outfield picks in the PL and joined Itoi and Dai-Kang Yoh as the Gold Glove winners in the outfield. He finished second in voting for the 2014 Pacific League MVP, leading all position players and trailing only Chihiro Kaneko. In the 2014 Japan Series, he went 8 for 20 with two doubles, five runs and a RBI as Softbank beat the Hanshin Tigers in five games, proving to be an excellent sparkplug. He led the event in hits (one over Seiichi Uchikawa), runs (two over Hiroki Uemoto and Kenji Akashi) and average (.050 over Uchikawa). Uchikawa beat him out for Series MVP honors but he was named one of the Series' three Outstanding Players (Shota Takeda and Dennis Sarfate) were the others, a sort-of MVP runner-up. He was 7 for 21 with 2 runs and six RBI in the 2014 Nichi-Bei Series as Samurai Japan beat the MLB All-Stars, 3 games to 2. His four-RBI game in game 2 was the first four-RBI performance by Japan vs. MLB since Hideki Matsui in 1996. Yanagita was named series MVP. He was the first Japanese MVP in a Nichi-Bei Series, an award that had been won by Barry Larkin, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and seven other MLB stars previously.
Yanagita took his game to an even higher level in 2015, becoming the 10th 30-30 player in NPB annals and the first batting champion to go 30-30. In the 2015 NPB All-Star Game 1, he replaced Katsuya Kakunaka in the lineup and took over right field, with RF Ikuhiro Kiyota moving to LF. In his lone at-bat, he grounded out against Yasuaki Yamasaki in the 9th inning of a 8-6 loss. In Game 2, in his hometown of Hiroshima, he hit third and started in center but failed to repeat 2014's game 2 heroics. He struck out against Hiroki Kuroda, grounded out facing Kenta Maeda, grounded out against Kenjiro Tanaka and singled off Tony Barnette before being erased in a double play in a 8-3 loss. For the regular season, he put up outstanding numbers: .363/.469/.631, 34 HR, 32 SB (8 CS), 88 BB, 110 R, 99 RBI. He won two monthly MVP awards, led the Pacific League in average (.004 over Shogo Akiyama), OBP (.050 over Akiyama), slugging (.072 ahead of Takeya Nakamura), OPS (160 ahead of Akiyama), runs (two more than Akiyama), walks (16 more than Takumi Kuriyama and Itoi) and total bases (317, 3 ahead of Akiyama). He was second in hits (182, 34 shy of Akiyama), tied Ernesto Mejia for 6th in doubles (31), tied Brandon Laird for third in home runs (3 behind Takeya Nakamura), was third in RBI (after Takeya Nakamura and Nakata), ranked second in steals (two behind Takuya Nakashima) and was second in hit-by-pitch (16, two behind Wily Mo Pena). He hit only .143/.333/.214 in the 2015 Japan Series, but his team got plenty of production from Lee, Akashi and a strong pitching staff to give them another title. He won another Gold Glove and another Best Nine nod (Akiyama and Kiyota were the other outfielders). He was an easy pick for the 2015 Pacific League Most Valuable Player Award, winning 211 of 230 first-plate votes. His 1,098 vote points were well ahead of Akiyama's 368. Like Tetsuto Yamada in the CL, he went from 2nd-place in the 2014 MVP voting to first in 2015.