After his otherworldly performance in the World Baseball Classic, it's easy to forget that Masataka Yoshida is basically starting from zero.
He didn't come up through the minors facing the pitchers who would one day oppose him in the big leagues. He doesn't have a memory bank of at-bats to draw upon when he steps in against a tough left-hander. The parks, the pitchers, the umpires, they're all new.
That's a way of saying he deserves an acclimation period as he adjusts to the majors.
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Except he doesn't seem to need it.
Four games into his Red Sox career, and Yoshida is already exhibiting the skills that made the Red Sox value him at $ 90 million, perhaps twice as much as his next suitor. In Monday's 7-6 loss to the Pirates, he ripped his first homer, a pretty opposite-field shot off an elevated 96 mph fastball.
So far, Yoshida has answered the questions that accompanied his arrival. Would he be able to hit higher velocity? After ripping a 95 mph fastball to right field in the opener and then homering on Monday, the answer seems to be yes. Would he be able to maintain his patient approach in a new league? A .400 on base percentage speaks eloquently. Will he be a butcher in left field? He doesn't look out of place there at all, so no.
It's enough to make one wonder what kind of hitter the Red Sox will be looking at once he's actually comfortable here.
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"Expectations were high on him, but this is somebody who's living up to it," said Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo. "He did it in the WBC, he's doing it here. You see his quality ABs against really, really good arms and he doesn't look overpowered. He looks comfortable.
"And it's one of those things, too: He's seeing these guys for the first time. A lot of these are first at-bats, you're gaining information at that point, and I'm very confident with him that once he starts seeing guys a little bit extra, he's going to really start leaning on some stuff because he's already putting up good swings, good at bats. And that's the first time he's seen people."
As a charter member of the Yoshida Skeptics Club, I'd have to be stubborn to say I'm not impressed. Pitchers have challenged him early and he has been up to the task. He's hitting .455 on fastballs and has yet to appear overwhelmed by velocity. Any fears that he'd develop a Jarren Duran or Michael Chavis hole in his swing up and in have already been assuaged. If anything, he might start seeing more off-speed pitches, since all five of his hits have come on heaters.
While we've yet to see how his pull power will play to the deepest parts of Fenway Park, it might not matter. The Red Sox are hitting him cleanup because they believe he'll leave the park, but his line drive and on-base abilities mean we shouldn't be surprised if he contends for a batting title (he won two of them in Japan), in which case he'll justify his contract even if he only hits 10 or 15 homers.
As it is, his ability to put the ball in play has already changed the look of the Red Sox lineup. The pitchers will obviously adjust, but the beauty of Yoshida's calm approach is that it might not matter.
"He goes about it the right way," Verdugo said. "He's a good professional, great clubhouse guy, great teammate. That's what you're looking for. And then on the field, he's done this his whole life, just how all of us have.
"He's someone we're counting on and that's why we have him where we have him in the lineup. To produce and knock in runs and be the guy that he is."