FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox knew about Masataka Yoshida’s advanced bat-to-ball skills. They knew about his keen eye at the plate that could make him an on-base machine. But what they didn’t know — at least to this degree — was Yoshida’s raw power. Raw power that has been on display early in camp.
“He’s got a lot more juice than I thought,” hitting coach Pete Fatse said. “Just doing a lot of the work on video, some of the reports came back seeing upwards of 70 raw power in batting practice. He’s got a lot of juice.”
Yoshida has been a focal point in camp after signing a five-year, $90 million contract this offseason. His .992 and 1.007 OPS marks the last two seasons were the highest in Nippon Professional Baseball. He’s listed at 5 feet 8 inches, though that might be generous. But he’s solid at roughly 175 pounds, with stout legs, which translates to power.
The power is also attached to his movements at the plate. Fatse describes Yoshida as super-efficient. Simple. Keeping everything in line and connected.
“There’s not a whole lot of wasted movement,” Fatse said. “I guess the best way of putting it is that he holds tension really well in his swing.”
The Red Sox have not depended on the long ball to win games in recent history. Even when they were arguably the best offensive team in baseball from 2018-21, the homer never defined them. But last year’s power outage — just 155 homers, which ranked 20th in the majors — hurt them.
Yoshida hit 29 homers last year in Japan. If that can translate in the majors to, say, 20-25, it would be a huge bonus for the Sox.
The translation aspect, and adjusting to major league pitching, though, will take time. Former big leaguer Adam Jones asserted that Yoshida can be an impact player at the big league level, even calling him the Japanese Juan Soto. But Yoshida already had confidence in his ability.
“We had a good relationship,” Yoshida said of Jones. “He had a good career in America and told me I could learn a lot from him.”
After seeing live pitching for the first time this week, Yoshida said he will have to adjust to the pitchers’ height in America.
“The angle is different,” Yoshida said. “Everybody here in the US is taller than in Japan. The baseball is different, so the movement on the pitches is a bit different, too. I’m going to swing aggressively, then make an adjustment from there.”
The adjustment ultimately will come with more reps.
“It’s like anything, you have to see it more and then you will build associations in your mind,” Fatse said. “I think we’re fortunate we have some technology that can help us expedite that when we’re training.
“So part of it is just understanding, there’s going to be things, there’s going to be a lot of guys that he hasn’t seen that he’s going to have to learn, but we’ll deal with those things as they come.”
Yoshida mainly hit third or fourth in Japan. But he would be better suited in the leadoff spot for this club despite not having any experience there.
The bat-to-ball skills and ability to work walks should make him the leading candidate for leadoff. If you add in the power, that could make him a true difference-maker.
“He’s a good hitter, man,” manager Alex Cora said. “He could hit.”