Tomase: Masataka Yoshida has a huge WBC, but does it matter? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The World Baseball Classic has unfolded as a best-case scenario for the Red Sox and Masataka Yoshida.
The outfielder was a force for Japan, to beat .400 and lead the tournament by 10 RBIsleading Red Sox fans to hope he’ll steal the one the front office envisioned when it netted him $90 million over the next five years.
We’ve already mentioned the challenges of being a 5ft 8 power hitter who hits lefties at Fenway Park (Brock Holt holds the franchise record for single-season home runs with seven), but there’s another factor working against Yoshida: the move from Japan.
Only two Japanese players have hit 20 home runs in a season – Hideki Matsui (seven times) and Shohei Ohtani (three times). Otherwise, history is littered with thugs who arrived with promises of power just to short-circuit.
Japanese hitters often struggle with the bigger parks, longer seasons, and greater speed of the big leagues, but the Red Sox believe Yoshida, 29, has the potential thanks to his progressive approach, above-average bat speed, and all-field power. Although best known for his plate discipline and low strikeout totals, Yoshida hit a career high in 2019 with 29 home runs.
However, there were others like him. Do you remember Kosuke Fukudome? He signed with the Cubs for four years and $48 million in 2008 at around the same stage in his career with expectations that he would deal a blow to Chicago’s lineup.
In his last three full seasons with the Chunichi Dragons, Fukudome has blasted 34, 28 and 31 homers, though he was best known for making counts and hitting base (sound familiar?). He then opened his big league career with a bang, doubling on his first pitch and blasting a game-defining three-run homer against All-Star closer Eric Gagne.
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Despite making the All-Star team, his hot start didn’t last. The pitchers soon learned they could exhaust him with inside fastballs, and he never recovered. He retired without ever hitting more than 13 home runs in a season.
Or how about catcher Kenji Johjima? He hit at least 31 homers three times in Japan, with a high of 36 in just 116 games in 2004. The Mariners, who had previously hit gold with Ichiro Suzuki, signed him in 2006 and at the age of 30 for three years and 16.5 million dollars He was playing pretty well, hitting 18 home runs as a rookie. A year later he was hitting 14 home runs and by 2010 he had decided to resign from his contract and return to Japan.
More recently, the Cubs won the bid for Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki on a five-year, $85 million contract last year, beating the Red Sox, among others. Suzuki had also had a notable showing in Japan with three 30-homer seasons, including 38 in his senior year at Hiroshima.
Like Fukudome and Johjima, Suzuki delivered a torrid April, including a two-homer game just four days into the season. But injuries slowed him thereafter, and he finished with foot counts, hitting .262 with 14 home runs. He told reporters this spring that the biggest adjustment is facing a consistently high speed, a change Yoshida is also having to cope with.
Suzuki at least finished strong, hitting .282 in September with .847 OPS. He went into spring training determined to improve, but will open the season on the injury list with a tense slash that forced him to retire from the WBC. He’s far from lost, but he has to be a lot better to justify Chicago’s investment.
Those are three examples, but they are not alone. Tad Iguchi (White Sox), Kaz Matsui (Mets) and Akinori Iwamura (Rays) also hit at least 30 home runs in Japan without ever hitting 20 in the major leagues. Matsui and Iwamura didn’t even get to 10.
The Red Sox have scouted Yoshida extensively and have reason to believe he will be the exception. Teammates and coaches have raved about the quality of his batting practice, and he’s putting on a show at the WBC.
However, it is worth remembering that history works against him.
Source : sports.yahoo.com