It was a great humiliation for the former ‘home run king’ of Japanese professional baseball. Now, he has lost his place in the minor leagues and has to wear an independent league uniform. This is the story of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
Local media such as Japan’s ‘Sankei 안전놀이터 Sports’ reported on the 1st (hereinafter Korean time), “Tsutsugo Yoshitomo left Triple-A Round Rock Express under the Texas Rangers and signed a contract with the Staten Island Ferryhawks of the independent league Atlantic League while looking for a transfer place. “There will be an official announcement soon,” he said.
If ’56 home runs’ Murakami Munetaka (Yakult Swallows) comes to mind when you think of the ‘sluggish hitter’ that represents the current Japanese professional baseball, Tsutsugo was the main character just a few years ago. Tsutsugo started his professional life after being nominated by the Yokohama (currently Yokohama DeNA) Baystars in the first round of the 2009 rookie draft, and started to stand out from the 2014 season and quickly established himself as a hitter representing Japan.
Tsutsugo played in 114 games in the 2014 season, with 123 hits, 22 homers, 77 RBIs, 58 runs, and a batting average of 0.300 OPS and 0.902. And he hit the peak of the 2016 season. Tsutsugo shot as many as 44 home runs in 133 games to win the title of ‘Home Run King’, and with 110 RBIs, he even embraced the RBI title, recording a batting average of 0.322 OPS and 1.110.
Even after spending the best year of the 2016 season, his steady performance continued. Tsutsugo recorded 28 homers, 94 RBIs, OPS 0.909 in the 2017 season, 38 homers, 89 RBIs, OPS 0.989 in the 2018 season, and 29 homers, 79 RBIs, OPS 0.899 in the 2019 season, playing the role of the 4th hitter of the Japanese national team and walking the path of winning and winning. After the 2019 season ended, he bravely challenged the major league stage based on his good performances.
Tsutsugo succeeded in winning a no small contract with the Tampa Bay Rays for 2 years and 12 million dollars (approximately 15.4 billion won). However, his performance on the big league stage was disappointing. Tsutsugo struggled with a batting average of 0.197 in his first season in the big leagues, and as his performance showed no signs of improving over time, Tampa Bay chose to part ways with the Japanese “home run king”. Afterwards, the LA Dodgers reached out and succeeded in continuing their major league life, but their companionship did not last too long.
The last chance came to Tsutsugo in the midst of two releases. Straight to the Pittsburgh Pirates. As if impressed by Pittsburgh’s selection, Tsutsugo swung a bat with 34 hits, 8 homers, a batting average of 0.268 OPS and 0.882 in 43 games after the transfer, and the following year, he shook off a three-year contract and signed a one-year contract. It was the intention to obtain a large contract through better performance. However, as he again sluggishly with a batting average of 0.171 in 50 games in the 2022 season, Tsutsugo’s choice missed the mark.
Tsutsugo, who had lost his place to go, signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers prior to the 2023 season and aimed to enter the big leagues again, but ended up not being called up to the major leagues. Decided to do it. According to the Japanese “Full Count”, Tsutsugo continued his personal training at his high school after completing his accompany with Texas.
According to ‘Full Count’, Tsutsugo said, “Of course there is (the anxiety of not being able to sign a contract). The longer the period of not playing, the more difficult it is to sign a contract. The contract is not something I can do, so I will leave it to my agent and focus on training so that I can sign a contract at any time without thinking about it.”
Although there is an offer from a Japanese club, Tsutsugo is hoping for the United States. He said, “Thankfully, there are offers from some clubs in Japan. There are also clubs that appeal really hard. But right now I have very few options to go back to Japan. I haven’t done anything in the US yet. As long as there is a possibility, I have no desire to throw it out of the awkward situation and return to Japan.”
In the end, Tsutsugo was unable to receive an offer from a major league club and headed for an independent league. ‘Sankei Sports’ said, “I participated in the spring camp as an invited player in the Texas Major League this year, but withdrew through an opt-out in June. I was looking for a transfer place with a high possibility of promotion to the Major League. It seems that he chose an independent league after that.”
Tsutsugo plans to participate in the independent league from the 2nd at the earliest. He’s unlikely to make it to the major leagues once he doesn’t make significant progress in the independent league. Geopo, who had a reputation as the best hitter in Japanese professional baseball, is gradually losing ground.