Masataka Yoshida Showing He Can Handle The Big Stage


Yoshida Showing He Can Handle The Big Stage

This past winter, the Red Sox made headlines when they signed 29-year-old left fielder Masataka Yoshida to a five-year deal worth 90 million. The move raised some eyebrows due to the size of the contract and because Yoshida had yet to make a name for himself in Major League Baseball (MLB). However, Boston may have gotten themselves a steal if Yoshida’s performance in the 2023 World Baseball Classic is any indication.

Potential WBC MVP?

On Monday night, Masataka Yoshida was right in the middle of an instant classic when Japan defeated Mexico in one of the best WBC games we’ve ever seen since its inception in 2006. Yoshi went 3-for-4, including a game-tying 3-run home run in the bottom of the 7th to help Japan advance to their first WBC final since 2009.

In six games, Yoshida has racked up 9 hits in 19 at-bats (.474 batting average), with a .571 on-base percentage, .842 slugging percentage, and 1.413 OPS (On-base Plus Slugging). He has hit two home runs, one double, five runs scored, 13 RBIs (Runs Batted In), three walks, and no strikeouts. 

Team Japan will face off against the United States at 7:00 pm tonight (March 21st) for the WBC title. If Japan can come away with the victory, there’s a good chance we’ll see Yoshida crowned the MVP of the entire tournament. 

Career In Japan

Yoshida was a career .327/.421/.539 hitter in NPB. In 2022, he hit .336 with a league-leading 1.007 OPS and 21 home runs. He walked more than he has struck out in five straight seasons, leaving NPB as a four-time All-Star and two-time batting champion (2020, 2021). 

Hitting Profile

Yoshida has been praised for his ability to put the ball in play, with scouts noting his “exceptional” bat-to-ball skill and “elite” contact rate. Last season in Japan, he walked 80 times to only 41 strikeouts. In today’s game of baseball, it’s very rare to see a player that walks more than they strike out, especially at that kind of clip. 

Power Profile

As for power, Yoshida had four seasons in Japan where he hit over 20 home runs, with scouts believing he will have more fringy pop in the big leagues against more advanced pitching. Figure somewhere between 15-25 home runs a year.

Personally, I think we see the higher range of that estimate just by looking at some of his tape from Japan. While he’s not not a big guy by any means, 5’8 (175 pounds), he has a thick lower body and can generate an insane amount of power.

Check the video linked here to get a better idea of what I’m talking about. 

Defensive Profile

Yoshida’s defensive ability in left field is often described as average to slightly below average, with his range and arm being somewhat limited. But this shouldn’t be much of an issue when you factor in that he will be playing left field at Fenway. The Red Sox could also find time for him at DH throughout the season with the departure of JD Martinez, which gives Alex Cora more options to rotate players in and out defensively.

Where Will Yoshi Bat For Boston?

With the regular season about a week away, Red Sox manager Alex Cora has already announced plans to bat Yoshida clean up during the season. His presence should help bolster a lineup that lost Xander Bogaerts in free agency and needs someone to protect Rafael Devers in the heart of the lineup. 

What Yoshida Brings To The Offense

I like that Yoshida brings Boston back to its roots with the ability to draw walks without striking out 200 times a season. Over the past few seasons, the Red Sox have gotten away from trying to work the pitchers to more of a free-swinging approach.

I think back to those 2000s Red Sox teams with players like Dustin Pedroia, JD Drew, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell, etc., who could put pressure on the pitcher by making them throw strikes. That unique skill is what Yoshida brings to the table and, quite honestly, something I’ve missed over the past decade. 

Final Thoughts: Ability To Handle Pressure

As we draw closer to Opening Day, Yoshida’s performance during this year’s World Baseball Classic should be reassuring that he can handle the pressure of playing in Boston. To back that up, It’s estimated that an absurd 93.6% of Japanese televisions were tuned into last night’s semifinal against Mexico.

The ability to come up clutch knowing his entire country was watching shows the type of player he is, and those are the types of players that typically perform in Boston. Overall, this is a great sign for Red Sox fans who may have had doubts about Yoshida and what he will bring to the table in 2023 and beyond.