Yoshitomo Tsutsugo told his Central League club, the Yokohama-based DeNA BayStars, on Friday that he would like to move to the major leagues. The left fielder, whom MLB scouts see as a first baseman, designated hitter because of his lack of speed, has steadfastly denied any interest in going since he returned from the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The BayStars have said they will consider the offer, which means they probably will post him.
Tsutsugo will not have the required nine years of service time until the start of the 2021 season, meaning he won’t be able to file for free agency until after that season.
Three years ago, Tsutsugo spent played winter ball briefly in the Dominican Republic. But more than he learned from his 10 games in action, he was overwhelmed by the attitude players showed — something he was not prepared for from Japan’s orderly stoic game.
“I felt the players there are really hungry, have strong desire. They face very severe situations, not like we do in Japan,” Tsutugo said They all played with a lot of heart. More than I could in Japan, I learned what it means to play with heart. They’re battling for jobs, but still, they are out there having fun.”
The Osaka native returns to his roots every winter to promote youth baseball in the city of Sakai. On Sunday, he joined three other NPB players in a “Kids Ballpark” event organized by the city and Japan’s player’s union.
“It’s important to have big dreams,” he said according to a Nikkan Sports report. “Since I was a kid I watched major league games on TV. We’re ballplayers, so we hope you would want to play baseball, but we also hope you’ll take on a lot of challenges and learn from your mistakes.”
“I want to put up some good numbers next season — not so I can go to the majors, but so the BayStars can win the pennant. Because that would be a new experience for me.”
Tsutsugo has blossomed under the management of Venezuelan manager Alex Ramirez, a former Cleveland Indians outfielder, who became the first foreign-registered player to reach NPB’s iconic 2,000-hit milestone. In 2017, batting cleanup for a lineup underpowered without Shohei Ohtani, Tsutsugo just barely missed a two-run homer that was the final out of the eighth inning in a 2-1 loss to the United States.
What scouts say
In the poll I conducted this spring with MLB scouts, they had this to say about the BayStars outfielder:
Scouts believe Japan’s cleanup hitter could definitely play in the majors, but finding a starring role might prove difficult.
“Tsustsugo could definitely hit in the majors. The bat is not a question. The question is the athleticism. He has improved his defense in left to the point where he might be able to play, but I would still have to really be sure how well he hits left-handers if I were to think he could play every day.”
“At first base or designated hitter, he’d have to compete against elite major league hitters. Think of Hiroshima’s Brad Eldred. He is in Japan because he couldn’t get enough playing time in the majors at first base. Is Tsutsugo a better hitter now then when Eldred arrived in Japan? That’s a good question.”
That’s the majority opinion. One scout believes Tsutsugo has the ability to adjust.
“He should be able to hold down a platoon role at first or DH and even play left field, but I’ve seen him adjust and change. He has power to all fields. I think he’d be able to produce enough to help some teams in an everyday role, but it won’t be easy. At the worst, I see him as a fourth outfielder who has too much upside and who could be too tough an out to keep on the bench.”
“Tsutsugo is an average major league hitter, so a .265 would be reasonable. He has very good raw power with in-game power better than average. A lot depends on the park he plays in. A normal season for him could be 15 home runs, but if he plays his home games in Baltimore, 25 would be very reasonable.”