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Japan’s NPB announces June 19 start to 2020 season

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Featuring a few former Oakland A’s farmhands

Sean Nolin is attempting a comeback.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Baseball in Japan will return on June 19, reports Kaz Nagatsuka of the Japan Times. The Nippon Professional Baseball league (NPB) made the announcement on Monday, after the original March opening date of their 2020 season was pushed back three months by the coronavirus pandemic.

Nagatsuka goes on to report that the normal 143-game NPB season will be shortened to around 120 games, with no fans in attendance at first but the possibility they could be allowed as the summer goes on. Other potential changes being discussed include an altered postseason format and a cap on the number of innings a game can go, while the annual All-Star Series has already been canceled. Teams will play two weeks of practice games beginning June 2, though the regular season schedule hasn’t yet been finalized beyond the date of the opener.

The NPB is not the first major pro baseball league to return to action amid the pandemic. The CPBL in Taiwan opened on April 11, and the KBO in South Korea got going on May 5. The CPBL has even started allowing some fans into stadiums to attend games. However, in the U.S., Major League Baseball still hasn’t figured out its own plan or set a specific opening date, nor have they even committed to the fact that the season will happen at all.

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When the NPB does start playing, a few former members of the Oakland A’s organization will be participating. Most of the players on this list never made it to the majors in an Oakland uniform, but they at least played in the A’s minor league system.

  • RHP Zach Neal (Saitama Seibu Lions): Neal, who threw around 85 innings for the A’s in 2016-17, pitched for Seibu last season and excelled. His 2.87 ERA was among the best for any starter in the league, thanks to his customarily tiny walk rate — and despite the accompanying minuscule strikeout rate that is also his signature.
  • LHP Sean Nolin (Saitama Seibu Lions): Nolin is best known for being part of the A’s return package in the Josh Donaldson trade, and then flaming out almost immediately due to injury — he threw just 29 innings for Oakland in 2015. However, he started pitching in the upper minors again in 2018, and last summer he struck out nearly a batter per inning in Triple-A (in the Mariners system). This will be his first experience in the NPB, at age 30.
  • IF Hiroyuki Nakajima (Yomiuri Giants): Hiro lives on! Nakajima was famously signed by the A’s to a two-year, $6.5 million contract entering the 2013 season, but after two years in the minors he wasn’t able to crack Oakland’s major league roster. He’s been back in the NPB since 2015, and will turn 38 in July.
  • IF Jefry Marte (Hanshin Tigers): Marte is best known for spending a few years as a part-time player for the Angels, but before that he was in the A’s minor league system for two seasons. He was acquired by Oakland entering 2013 in exchange for Collin Cowgill, then became a free agent after 2014 before eventually finding his way to Anaheim. This is his second summer in the NPB and for Hanshin, after posting a strong batting line last year.
  • 1B Dayan Viciedo (Chunichi Dragons): Viciedo is best known as an outfielder for the White Sox, for whom he hit 66 homers in 483 games between 2010-14. He played 30 games in Triple-A in the A’s system in 2015, but then went to Japan the next year and has been in the NPB with Chunichi (and playing first base) ever since.
  • A few other familiar MLB names: SS Alcides Escobar, OF Gerardo Parra, 1B Justin Bour, RHP Nick Martinez, OF Wladimir Balentien, and OF Jerry Sands. Of that list, Balentien has been in the NPB the longest, since 2011, while Martinez is entering his third season and the rest are there for the first time. Sands previously played two years in the KBO.

For more on the NPB and its players, click here to visit the league’s official website.