Masataka Yoshida grounded out in his first MLB at-bat on Thursday against the Orioles, was hit by a pitch next and hit an RBI single up the middle in his third plate appearance on his way to a 2-for-4 performance out of the cleanup spot in his debut. Yoshida has since gone 3-for-17 with a homer and a steal to start April.
The 29-year-old Red Sox outfielder has put up a triple-slash of .238/.333/.381 to start his MLB career.
Yoshida was a major catalyst for Japan winning the 2023 World Baseball Classic title, setting a WBC record with 13 RBIs in seven games with a 1.258 OPS. He got into six spring training games, batting .231 with one home run.
Signed for five years and $90 million in December of 2021, he was penciled into the starting lineup from the start and it was never even a consideration that he start in the minor leagues.
Yoshida reached Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball as a 22-year-old in 2016 for the Orix Buffaloes, becoming a solid contributor in his first two seasons before breaking out in 2018 (.321, 26 HR). Yoshida won batting crowns in 2020 and 2021, then helped Orix win the Japan Series last year.
So what can we expect from the 5-foot-8, 176-pound outfielder in his rookie season? Looking at his ATC projection, Yoshida is expected to have an excellent rookie season with a .283 average, 14 HR, 63 runs, 65 RBIs and 3 steals in 516 PAs. We’re betting that if Yoshida can get to more like 600 PAs, it will be with a .280 average, 20 HR, 80 runs, 90 RBIs and 5 steals.
Whether his power in Japan will translate to MLB is the main concern for Senga, who had a high of 29 homers but averaged 19 against lesser pitching in smaller ballparks. Yoshida’s incredible bat control should help as he has drawn far more walks (427) than strikeouts (307) in 781 career games in Japan.
As for the long-term future, Yoshida could work well hitting near the top of the lineup as a table-setter, or could stick in the middle of the lineup hitting for a high average and over 20 homers per season. Keep a close eye on the power, as that will go a long way toward determining if he’s more pre-2022 Luis Arraez or 2019-2020 DJ LeMahieu.