Who is Yoshi Tsutsugo, the Pirates' New Power Hitting Outfielder?


(AP Photo/Philip G. Pavely)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Details of Yoshi Tsutsugo's early career as a member of the Yokohama Bay Stars, arguably his most important part of his career to date, was lost on transference from Word to the Blogger platform.  Additionally some information about his career with Leones was misinterpreted by the writer.  We'll blame this one on being new to the scene and promise to be better in the future.  

The Pirates were down 3-1 in the 9th inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday.  With Cardinals closer, Alex Reyes, on the mound for the save, there was little hope for the Bucs.  Reyes has been having a great season for the Cardinals.

However, Bryan Reynolds drew a lead off walk.  Colin Moran followed with a strike out, but then Jacob Stallings also walked to put two men on base.  This brought to the plate new Bucco, Yoshi Tsutsugo, to a chant from the few fans left of “Yoshi! Yoshi! Yoshi!”. 

He was worth getting excited about as he already had hit four homeruns in his first 12 games with the Pirates.  He had also registered two doubles and a triple in just 27 Pirate at-bats. 

Sure enough, Tsutsugo lived up to the excitement and blasted a no-doubter over the Clemente wall and onto the river walk behind it.  He even stood at the plate for a second and admired his work, before rounding the bases and joining his teammates in a celebration at home.

Yoshi Tsutsugo (pronounced suit-sue-go) is already becoming a Pittsburgh folk hero.  No, this is not John Nogowski nor Phillip Evans having a couple productive games.  Tsutsugo has some real power and you can’t give up on real power easily.  However, he has struggled both in the field and staying consistent at the plate.  Hence, his availability to the Pirates at a low price at this point in his career. 

Early Career

Tsutsugo made his rookie professional debut as an 18 year old with the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2010.  Injuries plagued the early years of his career, but finally had the chance to compete in 114 games during the 2014 season.  Tsutsugo batted .300 with 22 homeruns and 77 RBI.

Tsutsugo continued his success into 2015 and 2016 when he was selected to the Nippon Professional Baseball All Game in back-to-back years.  In 2016, he also had his career highs in batting average and OBP at .322 and .430 respectively, and led the Central League with 44 homeruns and 110 RBI.  From 2015 to 2019, Tsutsugo was selected to play in five NPB All Star games.

MLB Career

Tsutsugo signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in December of 2019.  On July 24th, 2020 Tsutsugo made his debut with the Tampa Bay Rays.  He only batted .197 in 157 at-bats.  Half of his 31 hits were for extra bases which included 8 homeruns.  The power was there, the consistency was not.

After a 2020 postseason where Tsutsugo continued to struggle at the plate, the Rays still gave him a chance in 2021.  By the middle of May, he was only batting .167 over 78 at-bats to start the 2021 season.  At that point, the Los Angeles Dodgers hoped a change of scenery could help.  On May 15th, the Dodgers traded for Tsutsugo and sent a Player To Be Named Later back to the Rays.  However, after several injuries, continued struggles, and a designation for assignment, the Dodgers released Tsutsugo on August 14th.

Tsutsugo Joins the Pirates

Two days later, the Pirates kept Tsutsugo’s big league dreams alive and signed the 29 year old outfielder.  So far, he has paid dividends.  In just 31 plate appearances with Pittsburgh so far, Tsutsugo is batting .333 with 5 homeruns, 2 doubles, a triple, 11 RBI, and 3 walks. 

However, we have seen this before as Pirate fans.  Players come in at the end of seasons, perform well in August and September, and then they fizzle out at the beginning of the next season when given a real chance.  This has happened recently with both Pablo Reyes and Phillip Evans.  So I understand cautiously wading into these waters again.

Also, Tsutsugo is on an expiring contract.  While the Pirates do have to give this type of power a chance, resigning a 29 year old free agent is not an expected move at this point in the organization.  However, if Tsutsugo can continue to maintain this level of production with the Pirates, I could see them resigning him for two reasons. 

One reason is you simply don’t give up on this type of power.  The second reason is the same as why they signed Tyler Anderson to a one-year deal this past offseason.  If the Pirates were a good team, they had a low-risk, high-upside starting pitcher.  If the Pirates were bad, which they were, they could deal him at the trade deadline.  Tsutsugo could be the same type of low-risk, high-upside signing.  That is, if the rest of the league does not catch wind of what is going on down there at PNC Park.