Tomohiro Anraku looked exhausted. How could he not be?
One of the top 16-year-old pitchers in the world, Anraku took the mound today in the championship game of "Spring Koshien"—Japan's major high school invitational tournament—for the third straight day.
A second-year student at Saibi High (Ehime Prefecture), Anraku had thrown a 134-pitch complete game yesterday and another 138-pitch complete game victory on Monday. The Monday start came on one day of rest after he had thrown a 159-pitch complete game on Saturday and 232 pitches over a 13-inning complete game four days before that on Tuesday, March 26.
The effects of his extreme workload were hard to miss, as Anraku allowed seven runs in the fifth inning and two more in the sixth inning before Saibi switched to another pitcher for the first time in the entire tournament and went on to lose 17-1 in front of 30,000 fans at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya.
At the start of Spring Koshien, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Anraku showed incredible talent, with a fastball that touched 94 mph, flashes of a future above-average breaking ball, along with good flexibility and coordination. Today, his fastball sat at 78-85 mph and topped out at 88. Anraku allowed nine runs (three earned) and 12 hits. He didn't walk anyone, but he hit three batters and struck out just two.
Anraku left after throwing 109 pitches, bringing him to 381 pitches in three days and 772 pitches in nine days for the entire tournament, a workload that Major League Baseball's most durable starters amass in five to six weeks. The symptoms of Anraku's heavy usage were clear beyond his diminished fastball. His normal rapid-fire pace slowed considerably, his breathing appeared heavy and his curveball deteriorated into a slow, rolling pitch without its typical bite.
Saibi High led 1-0 going into the fifth inning, but that's when Anraku's day started to fall apart. With runners on second and third and nobody out, Anraku allowed a single to tie the game. He nearly escaped the inning with the score 1-1, but with two outs and the bases loaded, Anraku allowed a two-run double on an 86-mph fastball to make it 3-1. With runners on second and third, Anraku left an 81-mph fastball up in the zone was that was mashed for a double to left field to make it 5-1. A hanging 71-mph curveball to the next batter resulted in another double to make it 6-1, followed by a line-drive single to center field on an 81-mph fastball that made it 7-1.
In the sixth inning, Anraku had a runner on second base with two outs when he hit a batter with a 79-mph fastball and then plunked the next hitter with an 83-mph fastball on a 1-2 pitch. A bases-loaded single to center field scored two runs to make it 9-1. There is a win-at-all-costs mentality in Japanese high school baseball, and once Saibi went to its bullpen to start the seventh inning it was evident why Anraku's coach rode him so hard, as the bullpen gave up eight runs in the final two innings.
Anraku's intense workload has sparked discussion in Japanese media and social media about whether it's right for a coach to use a 16-year-old pitcher this way. In the U.S. baseball community, even those who believe that pitchers should throw a higher volume of pitches are uneasy with Anraku's workload and lack of rest. Some major league scouts and front-office personnel have been fuming, calling Anraku's usage dangerous, reckless and abusive.
By major league rules, Anraku technically is allowed to sign with an MLB club on July 2, as long as Anraku has been registered with MLB and a team goes through the standard status check protocol before signing him. While it's not known whether Anraku has been registered, it seems unlikely that Anraku would sign with a major league team anyway, even if he could potentially be in line for a million-dollar bonus.
For one, Japanese players rarely sign with a major league team out of high school—though there have been exceptions—and usually sign a contract with a team in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball if they're drafted by an NPB club. Anraku is also just a second-year student, so he still has one more year of high school remaining. He's also made no public indication that he wants to jump to the United States out of high school, as Japanese righthander Shohei Ohtani did last year before he changed his mind and signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters as their first-round pick.
While Anraku should be able to get some rest with Spring Koshien complete, it likely won't be his last heavy workload. Next up is Japan's Summer Koshien in August, followed quickly by the 18U World Championships in late August and early September. Then Anraku still has one more year of high school, which means he may have three more Koshien tournaments left before he graduates.
That’s a lot of pitches left to go.
Tomohiro Anraku, Spring Koshien 2013 Results
Tuesday, March 26: 13 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 13 SO, 232 pitches
Saturday, March 30: 9 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO, 159 pitches
Monday, April 1: 9 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO, 138 pitches
Tuesday, April 2: 9 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 SO, 134 pitches
Wednesday, April 3: 6 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO, 109 pitches