The Best Bats in the Central League
The quarter pole of the 2015 season is in the rearview mirror. Time flies. This year, we’ve seen more than a few NPB young stars turning into legitimate dudes. In my opinion, the two guys I’ll talk about in this piece can be MLB regulars at the moment. Let’s take a look.
Tetsuto Yamada, 2B, Yakult Swallows
Coming off a breakout 2014 campaign, where he hit a solid .324/.529/.403 in his first full season, the 23-year old has take another step forward. After Sunday, Yamada is spotting an outstanding .333/.414/.618 slash line, leading the league in each category, with 33 doubles and 31 long balls, has drawn 58 walks and struck out 84 times in 515 plate appearances while swiping 26 bases in 30 attempts.
This past weekend, he went yard in four consecutive at-bats, tied an NPB record (the video above features three of them). As of this writing, he’s one of the only two qualified hitters with an OPS north of 1 in the NPB (the other is Softbank Hawks cnter fielder Yuki Yanagita, whom I wrote about in this post). His 1.031 OPS is more than a full 100 points higher than his nearest Central League peer’s. His non-park adjusted OPS+ in a Bondsian 202. Not only that, he’s a stolen base threat on the basepaths. He’s showing all the offensive giant impression while playing a premium position at second base.
Speaking of his defense, Yamada was originally a shortstop when he was selected in the first round of the 2010 draft out of Riseisha High School in Osaka. After showing some inability at the position, he was moved to the other side of the middle infield. In three years as a full-time second baseman, he’s shown improvements with the glove. While questioned by some, he has the mobility and athleticism to handle the position, maybe eventually to become a plus defender at the MLB level.
Yamada still needs 5 years of playing time to obtain international free agency, but the Swallows have a history of sending their players to the MLB via the posting system, headlined by Kazuhisa Ishii and Nori Aoki. At 23, the offensive juggernaut is likely to head over to the stateside just before his prime years.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, OF, Yokohama DeNA Baystars
Overshadowed by the awesomeness of Yamada, yet the Yokohama High School product is enjoying a solid season with the bat. Tsutsugo’s best tool across the game is obviously the plus-plus raw power, which has 30-home run potential at the MLB level. He’s not just an one-dimensional slugger, as he shows the ability to shorten his swing to go the opposite way or barrel up breaking stuff to the middle. The power/hit tool combination definitely has a bright future. The 24-year old is hitting .321/.408/.518 with 56 free passes and 70 strikeouts in 451 plate appearances in 2015. While his OPS is a million light years behind the aforementioned Yamada, it’s still good enough for the second spot among qualified hitters in the Central League.
On the other hand, his mobility limits him to corner positions, mostly left field or first base. But his bat plays well enough for the offensive requirements for those positions.Rather, his biggest issue has been to stay on the field. Having never played more than 114 games in a season in his 6-year NPB career, he’s lost some playing time to a hamstring injury this season. Last year, he missed 30 games to a concussion. In 2012, he struggled with a right wrist injury.
If he continues to battle with durability issues, it may delay the timing of his international free agency, which he needs 5 more years to earn. Though, even with the downside, Tsutsugo is an intriguing bat to monitor.