FULL COUNT: Giants sign Tanaka as WBC rosters take shape

On Jan. 10, the San Francisco Giants signed free agent infielder Kensuke Tanaka to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. The 31-year-old left-handed hitter will compete with Wilson Valdez for the utility spot behind Marco Scutaro. The speedy Tanaka has 161 stolen bases and was a .286 hitter during his 13-year career with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. In 2006 he was an integral part of the team that won both the Japan Series and Asia Series. Last season he batted .300 with three homeruns and 32 RBIs in 114 games.

Elsewhere, Tanaka’s former teammate and Texas Rangers starter Yu Darvish will have recently resigned Geovany Soto as his primary catcher this coming season. Darvish went 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA in eight starts with Soto behind the plate.

Right-hander Jerome Williams avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $2 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The 31-year-old Hawai‘i native went 6-8 with a 4.58 ERA in 15 starts as the Angels No. 5 starter last season. The Giants’ first-round pick in 1999, Williams suffered a rotator cuff injury in 2007 that forced him out of the majors. In 2011, he reappeared with the Angels following a four-year odyssey that included stints with three minor league clubs, the independent league, Taiwan and Puerto Rico.

Another local boy, Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino, was selected to Team USA’s World Baseball Classic roster, which was announced on Jan. 17. Giants pitchers Ryan Vogelsong and Jeremy Affeldt will join Victorino on the star-studded squad. The semi-finals and championship game will be played March 17-19 at AT&T Park.

Former major leaguer Kaz Matsui will play for Japan in the WBC. Matsui is the lone Samurai member with big league experience. He played seven years in the majors for the New York Mets, Colorado Rockies, and Houston Astros before joining the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2011.

Coached by Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, Team Brazil is already the Cinderella story of the WBC after knocking out Panama and Colombia in the qualifiers. Their roster is packed with players of Japanese ancestry including 16-year-old reliever Daniel Missaki.

Two-time WBC Most Valuable Player Daisuke Matsuzaka will reportedly end up signing a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians, Florida Marlins or Mets. The one-time Red Sox ace has struggled to regain his form following Tommy John surgery.

Lastly, former Seattle Mariners manager Don Wakamastu was hired last month by the New York Yankees in their pro scouting department to oversee the proper training of young prospects.

Drew Morita, a Yonsei from the island of Kaua‘i, grew up rooting for the Oakland A’s but is now a loyal San Francisco Giants fan. He writes from San Francisco.

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