Makoto Imaoka (Makoyan, Sebura-kun) (今岡誠)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 187 lb.
As a college freshman, Imaoka led his league in homers and RBI. He played for the Japanese national team in the 1993 Intercontinental Cup, he hit .300/.300/.500 as the backup shortstop to Akihiro Togo for the Bronze Medal winners. In the Bronze Medal game, he was 0 for 2 in a win over Nicaragua after replacing Takashi Miwa at DH. He won Gold in the 1995 Asian Championship. In the 1995 Intercontinental Cup, he was 1 for 10 while backing up Masahiro Nojima at short and Hiroyuki Watanabe at third base. Despite being Japan's second-youngest player in the 1996 Olympics, he started at second base and hit .435/.500/.783 with 7 RBI in 9 games. In the Gold Medal game, he started at second and hit 8th, between future big leaguers Tadahito Iguchi and Kosuke Fukudome. Facing Omar Luis and Pedro Luis Lazo, Imaoka was 0 for 3 with a walk in a 13-9 loss.
The Tigers took Imaoka in the first round of the 1996 draft. Debuting in 1997, he hit .250/.289/.325 in 98 games. He backed up Yutaka Wada at second and Osamu Hoshino and Phil Hiatt at third. In 1998, #7 replaced Teruyoshi Kuji as Hanshin's starting shortstop and batted .293/.322/.393 while fielding .976. He made his first Central League All-Star team.
Imaoka fielded .983 in 1999 while putting up a batting line of .252/.303/.319; not a speedster, he was only 4-for-13 in steal attempts yet he managed to score from second base on a squeeze bunt on April 7. In 2000, Shuta Tanaka became Hanshin's starting shortstop and Imaoka was used as a backup infielder. He hit just .212/.258/.283 in 40 games, hardly resembling a former Olympic star, college home run champ and first-round draft pick. Things would go better, though.
At age 26 in 2001, Makoto rebounded to a more respectable .268/.321/.335 while getting regular action once more. He started at second for the Tigers in 2002 and batted .317/.355/.485 with 40 doubles and 15 home runs while fielding .989. He made his second All-Star team and made the Best Nine as the CL's top second sacker. He was 5th in the league in average behind Fukudome, Hideki Matsui, Roberto Petagine and Akinori Iwamura. He was second in doubles, two behind Fukudome.
Imaoka had his best OPS in 2003, hitting .340/.374/.491 with 35 doubles. He fielded .986 at second base. He tied a CL record by leading off the first-inning with a home run seven times, five of those on the first pitch. He won his only Gold Glove at second base and made the All-Star team and Best Nine. He won the batting title, .007 over Alex Ramirez. His 35 doubles tied Koichi Ogata for second, one behind Ken Suzuki. He tied Fukudome for 5th in hits (165), was 7th in OBP and 10th in slugging. In the 2003 Japan Series, he was 10 for 30 as one of the few Hanshin players to make contact against the Daiei Hawks, the rest of his club hitting .179 as they fell in 7 games. Imaoka only produced one run due to the lack of support from the other batters.
Imaoka more than doubled his home run output from 2003 to 2004, going from 12 to 28 en route to a career-high .508 slugging percentage. He hit .306 with a .361 OBP and made his 4th All-Star team, while alternating between first and third in Hanshin's batting order. He fielded .989. He just missed the CL's top 10 in average but still placed among the league leaders in hits (175, 5th), doubles (29, 6th) and total bases (288, 9th).
The veteran infielder batted .279/.346/.488 with a career-high 29 home runs and a whopping 147 RBI in 2005. He was an incredible 15 for 25 with 49 RBI with the bases loaded. Only Makoto Kozuru (161 in 1950) and Bobby Rose (153 in 1999) had ever driven in more in a Nippon Pro Baseball season. He was 22 RBI ahead of runner-up Tomoaki Kanemoto. Moving to third base with Takashi Toritani making his debut at short and Atsushi Fujimoto moved from short to second, Imaoka fielded .958. He made the All-Star team for the 5th team and was picked for the Best Nine at third base. Other than RBI, he placed among the league leaders in homers (9th between Iwamura and Fukudome), total bases (273, 9th) and sacrifice flies (9, 1st), not placing in the leaders in average or slugging despite his impressive RBI total. He did have some reliable OBP players batting in front of his 5th spot in the order in Norihiro Akahoshi (.392), Toritani, Andy Sheets and Kanemoto (.429), but Kanemoto hit 40 homers as the cleanup man, meaning Imaoka often came up with no one aboard. He was just 2 for 14 with no RBI in the 2005 Japan Series, as Hanshin was swept by the Chiba Lotte Marines.
Imaoka fell fast from there, eking out a .221/.252/.358 line in 59 games in 2006 while having surgery on a finger due to a tendon problem. In 2007, the 32-year-old batted .279/.322/.341 followed by .172/.231/.314 in 58 games in 2008 and just 4 for 30 with two doubles in 2009, earning him his release. He had hit .280/.326/.411 in 1,270 games in NPB to that point.
The Chiba Lotte Marines signed Imaoka after Hanshin let him loose.