Last month, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (筒香 嘉智) to a two-year contract for $12 million. If you add the $2.4 million posting fee paid to the Yokohama Baystars, Tsutsugo’s team in the Japanese League, that would make the Rays’ investment at $14.4 million total for two seasons. The 28-year-old left fielder has been expressing his ambition to play in the majors for years, and he finally found the team to play for. Now the question is who this guy is and how he will fit.
Tsutsugo has been one of the top prospects of Japanese baseball since his younger days. He was one of only two freshmen to hit cleanup in his high school team’s history. In his sophomore year, Tsutsugo led his team to the semifinal in Koshien, the biggest high school baseball tournament in Japan, with a .526 batting average, three home runs, and 14 RBIs in three games. It gained him enough attention to play on his country’s national team. In 2009, Tsutsugo was drafted by the Baystars as the first pick in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) League.
Tsutsugo struggled in Japan until 2014. He struck out too much, and frequent injuries prevented him from playing full-time. Until 2014, he only had one season with more than 100 games played (NPB plays 144 per season). However, Tsutsugo started filling up his minimum at-bats, and his OPS has been over .900 every year since. The peak was 2016, when he hit 44 home runs in 133 games with an OPS of 1.110. He also played for Japan in the 2017 World Baseball Classic as the cleanup hitter and proved his power with three home runs and a .680 SLG in seven games. Throughout his nine-year career in Japan, Tsutsugo hit .285/.382/.528, good for a .910 OPS. The average OPS during that time was around .680 to .720. Yokohama’s superstar was truly one of the league’s elite power hitters. Read the rest of this entry »