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The Red Report 2020 - Shogo Akiyama

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The Japanese veteran was brought in to set the table for his power hitting new teammates.

Cincinnati Reds v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

Fast Facts

  • Born April 16, 1988 in Yokosuka, Japan.
  • Bats: Left; Throws: Right
  • Attended Yokohama Sogakukan High School.
  • Set the Nippon Professional Baseball for hits in a single season with 216.
  • Appeared in five consecutive NPB All Star games between 2015-2019.

Organizational History

  • Selected by the Saitama Seibu Lions third overall in the 2010 NPB draft.
  • Signed a three year, $21 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds.

Career Stats

Scouting Report

I can’t find any zones or graphs to show you here, but there’s a pretty good Baseball Prospectus report here.

Hit Tool: 50

Moderate, slightly open stance, stands upright with hands behind head, bat horizontal. Early leg kick with noticeable pause at load, which might cause him struggle to adjust to MLB pitching, but fixable. Bat path is short with barrel staying in the zone enough to make solid contact, and geared towards line drives. Advanced bat-to-ball with ability to make mid-pitch adjustments. All-field approach. Shows good zone awareness, though comes with occasional questionable pitch selection. Can get beaten by well-located spin even if it’s below-average.

Shogo-gif

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Shogo’s making the play here, but let’s appreciate the bat flip for just a second.

h/t Noah Schroder

Projection

Outlook

As the Reds front office charted their course to #GetTheHitting this offseason, their first big splash was a franchise record setting deal with left handed batting mauler Mike Moustakas. Then, toward the end of the offseason, they did it again, this time with right handed batting mauler Nick Castellanos (though the terms of his deal are quite different). In this the goal was obvious; the Reds want to score more runs than they did in 2019. And the two signings should go a long way toward meeting that goal, though both players go about that goal in largely the same way. They hit the ball hard and, often times, over the fence. Neither are going to wow you with on-base skills (Moustakas has a career average OBP of .310, Castellanos at .326, though that number is some 20 points higher over the last two seasons).

The two can bang, to be sure. But looking around the roster, it would sure be nice to pair that type of power prowess with some table setting in between.

Enter the signing of Shogo Akiyama.

The Reds signed Akiyama to a three year, $21 million deal on January 6th. When he makes his Major League debut, he’ll be the first Japanese born player to suit up for the Reds, a fact in which he was very aware.

Akiyama was a five time Japanese All-Star with the Saitama Seibu Lions. In 2015, he set the NPB single season record in hits with 216. Over his nine season career in Japan, Shogo hit for .301/.376/.454 with 116 home runs (though 89 of those have come over the last three seasons). All of that is a roundabout way of saying that this signing adds offense, but in a categorically different way than the other two signings the Reds made. Akiyama’s Japanese OBP hasn’t been below .385 in any of the last five NPB seasons, twice exceeding .400. That’s downright Vottonian.

The Reds have long had their eyes on Akiyama, as relayed from Dick Williams by Mark Shelton at the time of the signing.

“We scouted Shogo for several years in anticipation of his free agency,” president of baseball operations Dick Williams said in a statement. “We like his approach at the plate as well as his outfield defense, and we think he will complement our team very well.”

It’s the approach that’s key. It’s very likely that Shogo won’t produce eye-popping power numbers over the course of his Major League career. However, if he brings his knowledge of the zone stateside, he could provide the Reds a rather instant boost in table setting for his powerful new teammates.

He also brings defensive versatility for the Reds and their already crowded outfielder. The Reds haven’t been afraid in experimenting with center field defense, but the only one who probably should be playing the position on a regular basis is Nick Senzel, and he’s making his way back from shoulder surgery. In Akiyama, they have another player who should be able to handle the position, but also fit in fine in either corner spot should need or match up arise. And he should be able to provide it competently (which is a little more than you can say for some of the Reds outfielders).

It’d be foolish to expect the elite on base numbers he posted in Japan out of the gate or, really, ever. As exciting the signing is for the Reds and as solid as Shogo’s skill set is, he’s not the level of prospect as, say, Ichiro was when he came to the MLB in 2001. Nor does he bring the same sort of ceiling (both talent and age) as Shohei Ohtani. He’s in for a steep learning curve, in both adapting to MLB pitching and getting comfortable with his new reality (something that was detailed rather brilliantly at the Athletic by C. Trent Rosecrans).

Still, at the price point, it’s a relatively low risk move. At the ZiPS projection above, a .331 OBP would’ve put Shogo behind only Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, and Jesse Winker among Reds regulars in 2019, and in a dead on tie with Curt Casali and Phil Ervin. That’s not exactly a slam dunk scenario for the Reds, but it’s competent, especially paired with solid defense.