New Rays slugger Tsutsugo ready for big league challenge

MLB
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)Yoshitomo Tsutsugo quickly felt right at home inside Tropicana Field.

One day after the Rays announced the completion of a $12 million, two-year contract with Tsutsugo, the former Japanese star began his opening statement at his introductory news conference Tuesday in English.

”Thank you so much for coming,” Tsutsugo said. ”My name is Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. Please call me Yoshie.”

Tsutsugo, who turned 28 last month, batted .272 this year with 29 homers and 79 RBIs. He had a .285 average with 205 homers and 613 RBIs during 10 seasons with Yokohama, including 44 homers and 110 RBIs in 2016.

”Offensively I know I’m able to contribute immediately,” Tsutsugo said through a translator. ”Obviously I’ve never faced MLB pitching and I’m really excited about it. But throughout my career in Japan I’ve prepared for this my whole life.”

The left-handed hitting corner outfield-third baseman has hit at least 20 home runs in six consecutive seasons, and earned Pool B MVP honors with Team Japan in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

”He’s got a track record of being really, really successful at a very elite level of baseball,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. ”Just the way he carries himself. We’re fortunate. We’re getting a guy that can walk in, be himself and be one of our leaders going forward.”

Tsutsugo has come to Los Angeles for a month to work out each of the last six offseasons. This year he spent time with Colorado star Nolan Arenado.

”He’s very accomplished,” Tampa Bay senior vice president of baseball operations Erik Neander said. ”I don’t think it can be stated enough that the level that he’s produced at over the last four or five years is not a level common to the players that have made this transition. Few have achieved the offense success that he has.”

Tsutsugo was made available to major league teams through the posting process by Yokohama of Japan’s Central League.

A contract for $12 million guaranteed requires the Rays to pay a $2.4 million posting fee.

”For the fans in Yokohama and the Japanese baseball fans out there, I just want to be able tell you that I want to do my best to be able to contribute to the Rays,” Tsutsugo said.

Tsutsugo will become the fourth Japanese-born player in franchise history, following right-hander Hideo Nomo (2005), infielder Akinori Iwamura (2007-09) and outfielder Hideki Matsui (2012).

Iwamura was the only other Japanese-born player to begin his major league career with the Rays after signing a three-year contract following three seasons with the Yakult Swallows.

Tsutsugo gets $5 million in 2020 and $7 million in 2021 and automatically becomes eligible for free agency. His contract also provides an interpreter, trainer and support staff member.

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