Baseball / Japanese Baseball

BayStars slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo ready to give majors a shot

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, after the end of the Yokohama BayStars’ season, took a trip to the United States and watched a game of this year’s ALCS between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees.

He’s hoping around this time next year, MLB fans will be watching a game he’s playing in.

Tsutsugo met with the media on a rainy Tuesday morning in Yokohama and announced his intention to move to the majors via the posting system this offseason. The BayStars have already said they would facilitate the move.

“I’ve dreamed of playing in the majors since before I turned pro, since I was a child,” Tsutsugo said.

Tsutsugo will be free to negotiate with all 30 MLB teams once he’s posted by the BayStars sometime between Nov. 1 and Dec. 5.

“I haven’t really thought about anything concrete yet,” he said when asked what he might be looking for. “I’m going to take some more time to think about it.”

Tsutsugo, 27, spent 10 seasons with the BayStars, hitting .285 with 205 home runs, 613 RBIs and a .910 on-base plus slugging percentage. His best season was in 2016, when he led NPB with 44 home runs and was tied for first with 110 RBIs while batting .322, the third-highest average in the Central League. The outfielder made the season-ending CL Best Nine team from 2015-2017.

“I played for Yokohama High School for three years and with the Yokohama BayStars for 10,” Tsutsugo said. “I’ve spent half of my life in Yokohama. I wasn’t able to win a championship, but I was able to have the experience of playing in the Climax Series three times and the Japan Series once.”

Now the five-time All-Star has his sights set on an even greater challenge.

“It’s where the best players in the world are gathered,” Tsutsugo said of MLB. “I think it’s the world’s top level.”

Playing in MLB wouldn’t be the first overseas experience for Tsutsugo. He had a 10-game stint with Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League in 2016. Tsutsugo also faced a number of current and former major league players during the World Baseball Classic in 2017.

As for if he can remain the type of player he was in Japan, where he was among NPB’s top power hitters, Tsutsugo isn’t certain.

“I don’t really know until I start playing in games honestly,” Tsutsugo said. “But I’d like to anticipate some of the situations and prepare and be flexible.”

The main concerns about Tsutsugo making the jump, though, have been about his defense.

“Of course it’s baseball, so batting and defense and base running are all important,” he said. “I can’t assess myself, but I can say for sure I’ll do the best I can.”

Tsutsugo said his dream of playing in the majors was borne out of watching on television as Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui thrived in MLB. He’s held on to that throughout his high school and pro career. Watching the Astros and Yankees earlier this month only helped drive the point home.

“I thought the atmosphere was amazing,” he said. “I also thought it was a really high level of play.”

Tsutsugo, the BayStars’ captain, informed the team of his wish to move to MLB during contract negotiations last year.

“I’m just grateful to them,” he said.

Tsutsugo said he’ll still play the way he has in Japan, which is doing whatever he can to help the team win.

He also said he doesn’t plan to alter his efforts to better the situation of young baseball players in Japan with concerns to their health — a subject he’s passionate about.

“Of course during the season, I have to focus on my play,” he said. “Doing my best for the team is the No. 1 thing. But during the offseason I would like to keep learning various things and keep spreading that message.”

Once a player is posted, he will have 30 days to reach a deal with an MLB club. If no deal is struck, the player returns to his NPB team.

The posting fee the NPB club receives depends on the guaranteed value of the MLB deal the player signs.

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.

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