The Rays have been pleased with Tsutsugo's progress in adjusting during his first spring training stateside, Juan Toribio of MLB.com reports.
Tsutsugo came into spring camp after a distinguished career in Japan, and the 28-year-old provided plenty of encouraging signs before spring training was paused that he was making progress toward adjusting to major-league arms. Tsutsugo had a team-high 13 strikeouts in Grapefruit League play, but he also drew three walks and laced both a double and a home run over 12 exhibitions. Additionally, Zachary Silver of MLB.com reports manager Kevin Cash had previously indicated he was pleased with how the offseason acquisition was coming along. "He's done a really good job. Really, really good job overall," Cash said. "[I was] cautiously optimistic about how it would play out, because we bet on the guys that we already had, but it takes two to develop those relationships. I think he's done an awesome job [of] going out of his way and connecting with pitchers, position players and staff."
Tsutsugo made his debut for the Rays on Sunday, playing in left field and batting fifth, Neil Solondz of the Rays Radio Network reports.
Tsutsugo reached base twice, singling to center field and walking. He also looked solid in left field, hitting the cutoff man accurately on multiple occasions. Earlier in camp, Tsutsugo drew praise for his defense at third base, so he appears prepared to deliver the versatility the Rays desired when they signed him this offseason.
Tsutsugo looked good while taking grounders at third base Friday, Juan Toribio of MLB.com reports. "He looked really comfortable over there," manager Kevin Cash said. "It's not the easiest setting, the turf is kind of matted down to where it's fast over there. Some of those guys that have been in camp the last couple years recognize that, but Yoshi did a good job."
Tsutsugo worked with both Cash and third-base coach Rodney Linares during the drills, The Rays have stated their intention to play the offseason import at multiple positions, and accordingly, Tsutsugo will also play in left field in Sunday's home opener against the Yankees before serving as the designated hitter Monday versus the Red Sox.
Tsutsugo, who arrived in camp Saturday, could be utilized in left field, at first base and as a designated hitter during his debut Rays campaign, Juan Toribio of MLB.com reports.
The 28-year-old import should certainly play a prominent role after signing a two-year, $12 million contract this offseason, and the team will utilize camp and spring training to see where he'll fit well defensively. Tsutsugo will have to make the usual adjustment to stateside baseball that other Japanese players have undergone, but the slugger is on record as stating he believes he'll only need the customary 40 exhibition at-bats he's traditionally logged during his career to be prepared for the regular season. Tsutsugo finished his 10-year tenure overseas with 205 home runs, 613 RBI, a .285 average and five Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star selections.
Tsutsugo signed with the Rays for two years and approximately $12 million Friday, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.
The slugger comes over from Japan after posting six straight seasons with an OPS of .899 or better. The 28-year-old is a defensively limited player, but he should be able to hit fairly well even after the step up in competition. The Rays have had success rotating through a group of similar above-average but not elite bats at the corner positions in the past, so Tsutsugo, a left-handed hitter, should have an opportunity to win at least a role on the large side of a platoon. Just how many at-bats he's set to receive may not become clear until the Rays' offseason moves are complete.
Tsutsugo's signing period for MLB clubs began Monday, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports.
MLB teams will have until 5:00 pm ET on Dec. 19 to reach an agreement with Tsutsugo, with his former NPB club, Yokohama, receiving compensation as part of the deal. Tsutsugo is certainly still in his prime, as he'll turn 28 later in November, though his ability to translate his success in Japan to the United States remains to be seen. He owns a strong .285/.382/.528 slash line over 10 NPB seasons, but he offers little on the defensive side of the ball.
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