Carter Stewart Jr. begins his sixth season in Japan when the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks' spring training starts Feb. 1, and appears poised for a breakthrough, a light at the end of what has been a surprisingly long 4½-year tunnel as America's first marquee amateur to turn pro in Japan.

While the big news in 2023 was Stewart's first win in the Japanese major leagues, the image of him harnessing his command and feel for his pitches was striking.

Stewart was chosen to start the Hawks' 2023 playoff opener, but took the loss. He now chalks up the experience as one more lesson learned on his journey that started in 2019, a year after he was the eighth overall pick in Major League Baseball's amateur draft.