Okoye Taking Right Steps Toward Success with Giants

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Top: Louis Okoye of the Yomiuri Giants picks up a hit against the Chunichi Dragons on April 24 at Tokyo Dome.
Bottom: Louis Okoye of the Yomiuri Giants picks up a hit against the Chunichi Dragons on April 23 at Hitachinaka Municipal Baseball Stadium.

Louis Okoye of the Yomiuri Giants has been getting things right during his early opportunity to play this season.

The ninth-year player said a Yomiuri front-office executive told the Nigerian-Japanese part-time player last year that his inability to hit to right field was the reason he was being sent down to the farm team.

The right-handed-hitting Okoye has worked on that aspect of his batting, and while not all of his hits are to the opposite field, the Giants outfielder said he feels much more comfortable at the plate.

“I went to the minors and had a lot of practice, and now I sometimes miss, but it’s [mostly] good,” Okoye told The Japan News in English about hitting to right field during an interview at Tokyo Dome on April 24.

The 185-centimeter, 90-kilogram Okoye, who was the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles’ first pick in the 2015 draft, is hitting .286 through the first month-plus of the season ahead of Tuesday night’s action. But he has struggled in the pro game.

The 26-year-old brought speed and a powerful arm to Rakuten as rookie, but his offensive production didn’t really match the hype.

So Okoye was left unprotected in the active-players draft, and Yomiuri plucked him from the Eagles in time for the 2023 season.

Okoye had even given serious consideration to walking away from the game, but a change of scenery last year and a strong spring earned him a roster spot from Opening Day.

Then came the drop to the minors.

“This is a [different] league, so last year I was confused,” the outfielder said was part of the reason for his mediocre results in 2023.

“Because it was first-time pitchers, and first-time batters,” said Okoye, who had to guess a lot at the plate and ended last season at .235 with two home runs and seven doubles over 127 games. He also lost some of his instinct on the defensive side.

“I didn’t have data, so I was just confused,” he said.

Okoye, though, said he is now growing in many facets as a member of the Giants.

“When I was younger, my body was powerful, and there was no thinking,” he said. “But now, I’m 26 years old, and this year 27. Getting ready for a game — [there’s] stretching and training, [I have] a massage.

“[And] now it’s thinking [about] how to play the game.”

These are all moves in the right direction for Okoye, who appears to be making strides.