Two days ago the Tampa Bay Rays formally announced the signing of Japanese outfielder/infielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, and this afternoon they introduced him to the Tampa Bay area.
The Rays prioritized the addition of offense this offseason and with Yoshi — as he prefers to be called — they got just that.
Tsutsugo, 28, has been one of Japan’s most preeminent sluggers for the past four seasons, slashing a combined .293 BA/.402 OBP/.574 SLG/.976 OPS with 139 home runs, 116 doubles, five triples, a 15.1% walk rate, and a 20.4% strikeout rate. He was most productive in 2016 when he crushed a career-high 44 homers and hit .322 BA/.430 OBP/.680 SLG/1.110 OPS. He, however, is coming off his weakest of the past four, in which he saw his strikeout rate climb to 25.3%. Even so, Tsutsugo slashed a respectable .272 BA/.388 OBP/.511 SLG/.899 OPS line with 29 long balls. Since 2014, he has averaged 31 homers per season.
Tsutsugo has played some third base in his career, although he has spent most of his time in left field or at first base. He will likely see time in the corner-outfield spots — primarily left field — as well as hitting in the DH role, which was mentioned during the press conference/introduction. He has improved defensively at the hot corner, albeit over a small sample size, and if he continues to improve at that position, Yoshi would give the Rays a left-handed-hitting option to split time with Yandy Díaz, who is the projected starting third baseman heading into next season.
The versatility only helps. We saw what took place last year with injuries and being able to shift guys around and put him in different roles to fill immediate needs when certain guys got hurt; he’s going to add to that mix. I fully expect him to be a presence somewhere right in the middle of our lineup.— Kevin Cash
Prior to the 2019 Winter Meetings, Kevin Cash and Erik Neander visited Tsutsugo, who was working out in California.
And while Tampa Bay had scouted Tsutsugo over the past few seasons, they wanted to watch him in person. The decision, plus superlatives from his agent, Joel Wolfe — who also represents Tyler Glasnow — helped the Rays ink a two-year, $12-million deal with the slugger. This in spite of having received larger offers from other teams.
Throughout the whole process, the Rays were the first team that was interested in me. Kevin and Erik were very passionate, and they were the first team to approach me and they told me, ‘We need you to be able to win this division.’— Yoshitomo Tsutsugo
Yoshi appeared in 10 Winter Ball games in the Dominican Republic in 2015, and believes he will adapt well to a big league clubhouse.
Obviously I’ve never faced MLB pitching and I’m really excited about it. Throughout my career in Japan, I’ve prepared for this my whole life. I understand the Rays have great data and resources here and with (Cash) and the other coaches, just to be able to help me prepare — I’m excited for that.— Yoshitomo Tsutsugo
In short, the Rays took the time to know Tsutsugo, and truly wanted him. He appreciated that, and thinks highly of the team that uses data and resources to provide help to any players in need.
According to Neil Solondz (Rays Radio), Tsutsugo will spend the next couple of days looking for a place to live during the season, then will return to Japan until late January, when he will make Tampa Bay his baseball home.
You can watch a non-condensed version of the 35-minute press conference below.