Hiroyuki Watanabe (02)
Hiroyuki Watanabe (渡邉 博幸)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 180 lb.
Hiroyuki Watanabe played 12 seasons in Nippon Pro Baseball.
After college, Watanabe played for Mitsubishi Motors Kawasaki in the industrial leagues, winning a national industrial league title. He also played for the Japanese national team in the 1995 Intercontinental Cup. In that event, he hit .348/.500/.696 and played error-free defense as Japan's third baseman. He had 10 RBI in 8 games. He tied Victor Mesa and Norman Cardoze for third in the event in RBI, behind teammate Nobuhiko Matsunaka (13) and Nemesio Porras (11). Japan won a Silver Medal. Watanabe did not make the tournament All-Star team, as Cuban legend Omar Linares was picked at 3B; in an odd turn, the two would later share a position and team in Japan.
Watanabe was a fourth-round pick of the Chunichi Dragons in the 1995 draft. On September 28, 1996, he made his NPB debut, replacing Darnell Coles at third base as a defensive sub. He went 1 for 4 at the plate that year, his hit coming off Eiji Ochiai. In 1997, he was a solid bench player, hitting .346/.477/.519 in 65 plate appearances over 34 games. He went 0 for 3 in 1998.
Watanabe was a backup at all four infield spots for Chunichi in 1999, primarily subbing for Leo Gomez at 3B and Kazuyoshi Tatsunami in 2B, often working in a defensive role. He hit a respectable .281/.366/.416 in 103 plate appearances, spread over 81 games. He got his first career homer, taking Futoshi Yamabe deep as a pinch-hitter for Sang-hoon Lee. In the 1999 Japan Series, Hiroyuki was 1 for 3 as Chunichi fell to the Daiei Hawks.
In 2000, he hit .255/.319/.324 in 116 plate appearances and 76 games, backing up Gomez (3B), Tatsunami (2B) and Takeshi Yamasaki (1B) and seeing some action in the outfield as well. He struggled in 2001, going 11 for 55 with a double and eight walks, primarily backing up Yamasaki at 1B and Gomez and Tatsunami at the hot corner. He rebounded to play 110 games in 2002, batting .269/.319/.389 in 190 plate appearances. He was a frequent defensive sub for Gomez at first, actually leading the Dragons in games played there (81), while also spelling Tatsunami at third.
Watanabe produced at a .240/.271/.319 clip in 211 plate appearances and 114 games in 2003. He split 1B with Ivan Cruz and Linares while also backing up Masahiro Araki at 2B and Tatsunami at 3B. In 2004, he was the starting 1B for the Dragons (ahead of Linares and Masahiko Morino), hitting .286/.334/.334 and fielding .996. He won the Gold Glove as the Central League's top defender at first; interestingly, exactly 50 years earlier, another Hiroyuki Watanabe was a Best Nine pick in the CL. He went 0 for 6 with four whiffs against the Seibu Lions in the 2004 Japan Series, as Linares took over the 1B role and excelled. The Dragons still lost in 7 games, though.
Watanabe hit .272/.314/.358 in 2005, getting just 88 plate appearances in 104 games, fielding .995 as a defensive sub for 1B Tyrone Woods. In 2006, the veteran hit .252/.288/.333 in 122 plate appearances and 103 games, a defensive sub for Woods at first and a back-up to Morino and Tatsunami at third. In the 2006 Japan Series, he got into one game but did not bat as Chunichi lost to the Nippon Ham Fighters. In his final season, 2007 in Japanese Baseball, #5 was 3 for 23 in 53 games (a defensive sub for Woods once more), then did not play in the 2007 Japan Series as the Dragons won their first Japan Series in over 50 years. He was released at the end of the season.
Overall, the Kanagawa native had hit .269/.328/.348 in 839 NPB games, with 125 runs and 123 RBI. Befitting his defensive substitute role, he had only 1,315 plate appearances.
Chunichi kept him on as a coach, though, initially in the minors, then in NPB; he has worked primarily with the infielders.