Rick Hahn made it clear in late September that designated hitter would be among the positions addressed this offseason. The White Sox may be eyeing across international waters at an intriguing opportunity to fill that exact need.
The latest talent available out of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) is left-handed slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. Born in Hashimoto, Japan, Tsutsugo broke in to the Japan Central League at 18-years-old after being drafted in the first round in 2009 and accumulated 4,000 plate appearances across 10 seasons. The soon-to-be 28-year-old is now considered a Major League free agent following the posting process by the Yokohama Bay Stars.
MLB informed teams today that OF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is available via the posting process. The deadline for MLB clubs is 5pm ET on Dec. 19. Tsutsugo, who turns 28 on Nov. 26, has 205 HR and a .284/.382/.525 slash line in 10 seasons with Yokohama in the Central League in Japan.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) November 18, 2019
Tsutsugo is riding a string of six straight productive seasons for Yokohama, which includes a career-year in 2016. That season, the 6-foot, 200lb left-handed hitter mashed a Central League-high 44 home runs, drove in 110 RBI and finished third overall with a .322 batting average. During that six-year span, his production averages out to a .298/.397/.559 (.956 OPS) slash line with 185 home runs, 168 doubles, and 542 RBI in 794 games. He also benefits from a great eye at the plate, as Tsutsugo has totaled at least 80 walks over his last four seasons and sports a 13.3 career walk percentage.
Fangraphs lists Tsutsugo as the No. 42 ranked free agent on the market. Eric Longenhagen mentioned Tsutsugo, “has monstrous, all-fields power thanks to plate coverage that seems impossible based on how much he opens his front side during his swing, much like Eddie Rosario.”
In 2018, Sung Min Kim detailed the strengths of Tsutsugo for Fangraphs and stated, “You can know next to nothing about Tsutsugo and realize he’s a power hitter by looking at his swing. He has a Bryce Harper-like timing mechanism — an open stance, a trigger to shift the weight back, the hands held high before launch, and then boom.”
Tsutsugo arrives with some flaws. Defensively he will be limited to a corner outfield position while almost always filling out at DH. He is also privy to the strikeout. Tsutsugo fanned just over 20 percent of the time across his career in Japan and is coming off a career-high 141 strikeouts in 131 games in 2019.
Longenhagen described Tsutsugo to have a “chance to be an average everyday player for a while but there’s no margin for error here because of the defensive limitations, and while he’s one of the youngest free agents of this group, Tsutsugo’s frame is not the sort that typically ages well.”
The former Bay Star is expected to command a contract of two-to-four years in length with $8-to-$10 million worth of average annual value attached. The White Sox would be doing a disservice by simply passing on an opportunity to kick the tires on this cost affordable left-handed power bat.
Should they sign Tsutsugo, I can’t help but think how it would immediately effect Zack Collins. With the Sox DH spot theoretically taken most of the time, Collins would be left competing against an All-Star backstop and/or play a position he’s done 21 times in his six-year professional career at first base.
Then the road could lead back to Charlotte where he will be forced to split time at first base with Gavin Sheets, who will surely see International League baseballs next year. Barring other free agent signings or trades made this offseason, Collins may again be limited in Major League plate appearances just based on the lack of opportunity come 2020.
As for the person of interest, despite regressing offensively in 2019, Tsutsugo’s production remains valuable across the board. There is always risk involved when introducing the highest level of baseball to an international player. However, in this case, the White Sox would be housing one of the younger and more affordable free agents on the market who projects to hit 20-30 home runs from the left side.
The White Sox should have a seat at the table on this one.
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