Masataka Yoshida evokes superstar comparisons, but reservations remain

New to Japan just a few years in the past, Adam Jones requested his interpreter, “Who are the blokes?”

The former big-league outfielder, a five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove Award winner, needed to know who one of the best gamers had been on his new workforce as a way to higher perceive the league and acclimate himself to a brand new atmosphere.

The interpreter pointed to the participant carrying No. 34. By then, in 2020, these way more knowledgeable than Jones had taken to calling this participant “Harper.” The nickname was in reference to Bryce Harper. Like Harper, he had a candy lefty swing, performed the outfield and had a repute for tormenting pitchers. Also, he idolized Harper. The reality this participant wore 34, Harper’s previous quantity with the Nationals, solely made sense.

The participant was Masataka Yoshida.

The Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball will reportedly quickly publish Yoshida, making him eligible to discover alternatives with MLB golf equipment. With the free-agent marketplace for outfielders hardly overflowing with amount, Yoshida, 29, stands out as an intriguing choice. Teams searching for a nook outfielder or DH-type are asking themselves how a lot of Yoshida’s .960 profession OPS over seven seasons with Orix will translate to the majors. Essentially, they’re exploring the identical thought Jones had just a few years in the past and utilizing a little bit of scouting parlance to ask: Is he a man?

So how lengthy did it take Jones to grasp why the interpreter pointed Yoshida out?

Said Jones, “It was Day 1.”

In no time, Yoshida reminded Jones of one other MVP-caliber participant.

“I say he is just like the Japanese Juan Soto,” Jones mentioned.

Jones — who was teammates with Yoshida in 2020 and 2021 — did not imply Yoshida goes to develop into Soto within the United States. It was simply that, in Japan, Yoshida’s model and technique for mashing resembled Soto’s method.

“He can hit the ball to all fields, all speeds,” Jones mentioned. “Like Juan Soto, he hits every little thing — and walks; he does not swing out of the zone.”

The excessive reward is warranted, in line with others who’ve seen Yoshida play, equivalent to former Orix outfielder Stefen Romero.

“That’s very spot on,” mentioned Romero, a present MLB free agent who had a .828 OPS over 5 seasons in NPB. “Especially with strike zone consciousness, plate self-discipline, understanding the strike zone, understanding what pitches he can personally do harm with. I can see the comparability of that being very true.

“From a left-handed perspective, his swing might be by far the prettiest swing I’ve ever seen.”

Yoshida made his NPB debut with the Buffaloes in 2016 and instantly produced. Over the final 5 years, he has by no means completed a season with an OPS under .950. In 2022, he performed in 119 video games, hit 21 residence runs and slashed .335/.447/.561.

“His consistency was simply unreal,” Romero mentioned. “He’s a contact hitter in the beginning. He places the ball in play. He’s very, very clutch. When you want a success or that you must drive any person in, he comes up in these conditions. He does not apply stress to himself. Pitchers felt that presence and made errors. And he not often misses a mistake. In a really essential scenario in entrance of 30,000 and 40,000 followers in Japan, he would all the time come by way of and I really feel like that may transition very properly right here within the United States.”

In conversations with gamers and scouts about how Yoshida will fare, the expectations diversified.

“He was for sure in my thoughts one of the best hitter I performed in opposition to over there,” mentioned Brian O’Grady, a former Padres outfielder who spent 2022 enjoying for the Saitama Seibu Lions. “I’m simply extra cautious of hitters making the transition from Japan to MLB versus pitchers.”

That was the consensus opinion: Yoshida was one of the best hitter of any of them watched in Japan but variables make it exhausting to say he is a lock to provide at a excessive degree. Just take into account the current examples. Shohei Ohtani is a superstar whereas Yoshi Tsutsugo and Shogo Akiyama have by no means come near replicating what they confirmed in Japan.

Despite being listed at 5-foot-8 and 175 kilos, Yoshida has energy. And his nice self-discipline and pitch recognition ought to assist with the transition, one scout mentioned. Still, the scout cautioned that the model of pitching is so completely different in MLB. There are going to be issues Yoshida has by no means seen earlier than, equivalent to lefties persistently throwing 95 mph with sink down and in to him whereas finding the pitch for a strike. Or a workforce deploying 5 straight right-handers hitting 99 mph throughout the identical recreation.

In Japan, just a few of one of the best pitchers truly performed on Yoshida’s workforce, and he sometimes noticed 85-90 mph with a variety of breaking pitches and four-seam fastballs versus high-velocity two-seamers with sharp motion. For context, the Pacific League (the place Yoshida performed and extremely coveted free-agent Koudai Senga pitched) is taken into account to be a more durable league to hit in than the Central (the place Suzuki and Tsutsugo performed). That makes a few of Yoshida’s numbers extra spectacular when in comparison with another Japanese gamers. Another scout puzzled if Yoshida acquired superstar therapy on shut pitches that will not go his approach as steadily within the US Yoshida’s protection and working didn’t impress, a scout mentioned, so his worth solely relies on whether or not he can hit.

“No matter what, there’s going to be an adjustment interval,” one scout mentioned. “The sooner he makes it, the higher. He does not have a giant leg kick, he is sensible on the plate and does not chase. So that every one helps. I might see him being much like Seiya Suzuki.”

Suzuki signed with the Cubs earlier than the 2022 season for 5 years and $85 million. He is 2 years youthful than Yoshida. It’s exhausting to pin down a projected wage for Yoshida, but getting much less of a assure than Suzuki, contemplating their ages, looks as if an inexpensive guess. The Mariners, Blue Jays and Yankees have been talked about within the Japanese press as groups that will doubtlessly be taken with Yoshida.

Jones refers to Yoshida as a “question-asking man,” and the best way the previous Orioles star sees it, that curiosity and starvation to study must also assist Yoshida’s transition.

“He wasn’t too involved about how the seashores had been in San Diego,” Jones mentioned. “He was involved about what it is like going through Josh Hader. Or the way it’s like going through Aroldis Chapman. He requested a variety of questions on Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole. He requested quite a bit about these guys that throw exhausting, and I attempted to offer him one of the best solutions I might. He simply all the time needed to know.”

One query he’d typically ask teammates is, “Do you suppose I might play within the United States?” They’d inform him sure, that he is a superstar in Japan and he has abilities that may translate. But it is as much as him to show it.

“He’s prepared for it,” Jones mentioned. “I do not suppose Japan is a problem for him anymore. He’s hitting .350. It’s like a man in Triple A hitting .350 and he will get referred to as up. It’s not a problem for him anymore. So I believe it is time for him to tackle a brand new problem. And Major League Baseball certain as hell is the best problem.”

(Photo: Yukihito Taguchi / USA Today)

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