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Three hitters in the NPB that could interest the Rays

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At least two of these names will land major league deals this offseason.

Japan v MLB All Stars - Game 4 Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

Last week I highlighted three KBO pitchers I thought could contribute to the Rays in 2020. Now I’d like to turn my attention to the Nippon Professional Baseball organization, Japan’s major leagues, which offer a greater depth of opportunity for MLB teams to find talent ready to contribute next season.

CF Shogo Akiyama (Entering age-32 season, Bats L/Throws R)

2019 stats : .303/.392/.471, 20 HR, 12 SB, 78 BB, 108 K

Here’s an already-popular name to get us started.

As one of the most accomplished CF in the NPB, I think Shogo Akiyama is likely the most famous name among my list.

Hitting:

Defense:

During 2015~2019 season:

  • He didn’t miss one single game
  • His lowest wRC+ was 130, and highest was 169
  • 5× NPB All-Star
  • .320/.399/.497 batting line

Many scout said He will not be a star at MLB level, but he could be a major league regular. He doesn’t have a great set of tools, but he has a good enough overall skillset.

Considering the weak CF FA market, Akiyama will be fit for many teams. Although, he is not a RHB hitter the Rays are likely to prefer in finding additions this offseason, I think the Rays could have interest in him, too.

Unfortunately, price will be a problem. While many sites refer to him as a player who is able to be acquired at a low price — MLBTR predicted he will be a very cheap option at Two years, $6MM — I think this is too low considering his former team, Seibu, has offered him 4 years, $19MM. Some Japanese media says he is using the MLB teams offer as leverage to negotiate with his current club, as opposed to desperately wanting to be a MLB player.

There could be a team who think he is a regular option and they will offer him more than $4MM/year contract. Could Rays spend that kind of money for him? It’s a possibility. But if there is a competition for him and he becomes more expensive, then they are likely to give up.

Homin’s Player Comparison: 2013~2017 Jon Jay

FV: 45~50 — Floor is good 4th OF, which is helpful on a 26-man roster

1B/LF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (28, L/R)

2019 stats: .272/.388/.511, 29 HR, 0 SB, 88 BB, 141 K

Available through the NPB-MLB posting system, Tsutsugo would be formally posted between November 1st and December 5th.

Tsutsugo has a decade of top-league experience, having been promoted at age 18 for three games in 2010.

Hitting:

Defense :

During 2015~2019 season:

  • His lowest wRC+ was 145(145~199)
  • 5× NPB All-Star
  • .298/.401/.563
  • lead HR and RBI in 2014 (44HR, 110 RBI)

There are Pros and Cons here. Tsutsugo has good power and patience at the plate. He is relatively young, a run-producer, and not strikeout prone. But his value is limited only at the plate. He is known for bad defense, having moved from 3B to 1B to recently LF, and projects as a 1B/DH/LF option at the MLB level. He is also not considered durable and does not have plus athleticism, and a team would likely get the most value from him if he stayed at DH.

Over the last few seasons, the 1B/DH/LF market has not been strong for players. There are plenty of power bats around the league.

As a case study, Ross Atkins, Blue Jays’ GM, confirmed interest in 1B/LF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. But is he surely better than Rowdy Tellez? Maybe... but Tellez will be much cheaper than Tsutsugo next year.

Likewise, the Rays have plenty of LHB options (they are linked to RHB, Howie Kendrick) and emphasize defense. So I think Rays’ interest may be limited. Additionally, the Rays need players ready for a playoff push. He needs to adjusted a lot in switching leagues, so his range of outcomes will be wide.

Homin’s Player Comparison: 2018~2019 Justin Smoak

FV : 40~50 — Bust or everyday LF, hitting 6th.

2B Ryosuke Kikuchi (30, R/R)

2019 stats : .261/.313/.406, 14 HR, 13 SB, 41 BB, 102 K

Also available through the NPB-MLB posting system, too. I’ve seen him called him best defensive 2B in the world. Maybe that is true, maybe it’s not, but you know that means the Rays have his name circled.

This is another player on the Blue Jays radar.

Hitting:

Defense:

But, that is all. He scored more than wrc+ 100 only two times (2014, 2016) in his career. Moreover, there are concern he maybe not a glove wizard any more and may have lost a step, per his observers.

If he could play at SS and run faster, he could be a major league option. But he can’t, so I doubt there are teams who offer him decent money. Rather, I think he may be in a position to contemplate minor league contracts, in which case his representatives feel it is better not to go to MLB.

Do you remember Munenori Kawasaki? He has been better hitter than Kikuchi and played SS at Japan. Then, He accepted minor league contract to pursue MLB dream, and had a decent career. Kukuchi could follow a similar path.

Homin’s Player Comparison: 2B version of Adeiny Hechavarria

FV: 35~40 — Good minor league depth or 24~26th player