Current status: Eligible to file for international free agency after the 2020 season. His team has never posted a player and has rejected players’ requests to do so. He qualified to become a domestic free agent last year and is finishing the second year of a three-year contract.
Team: SoftBank Hawks
Pos: CF Age: 31, as of Oct. 9, 2019. Bats: L
Honors: Best Nine (4)*, Golden Glove (4)
- – In 2016, Yanagita missed over 20 games. Between his lower offensive totals and the Hawks failure to win the pennant, he was not voted to either a Best Nine or Golden Glove Award, although Win Shares ranked him about even with the PL’s MVP that season, Shohei Ohtani.
League leader: Hits (3) — NPB record 216 in 2015, Batting Avg. (1).
The biggest knock on Yanagita is his durability. He has missed 13 or more games in each of the past five seasons. This year, he suffered a leg injury in April that kept him out until August, ending his four-year streak of leading the Pacific League in on-base percentage and slugging average at four seasons. Only Hall of Fame slugger Sadaharu Oh, who accomplished the feat 11 times.
Yanagita told me he became the hitter he is in Puerto Rico after the 2012 season when by chance he was a winter league teammate of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez. In two months on the island, Yanagita said Rodriguez worked with him and helped him iron out his front leg kick and vastly improve his timing.
A decent base stealer until this year’s injury, Yanagita is a good base runner because of his speed, although his judgment and timing on the bases is not a match for his contemporary, Shogo Akiyama.
Yanagita is always among the leaders in Delta Graphs’ “Hard Contact Percentage,” but despite his home run power hits a lot of balls on the ground. Yanagita swings really hard, but can also cut down his swing depending on the situations. Few hitters in NPB swing at a higher percentage of balls in the zone, and no Japanese hitters see fewer balls in the zone.
Although his age is working against him, Yanagita seems keen to play in the majors and though he will lose something in the adjustment process, he has retained a fair amount of his speed and strength for a player his age. He also has the kind of friendly, outgoing character that smooths some transition issues.