If you pay any attention to the international free agent market, you’ve probably heard two names rumored to come over from Japan this offseason: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Shogo Akiyama. Tsutsugo is an intriguing power hitter, and he deserves his own write up, but the better all-around player appears to be Shogo Akiyama.
Akiyama, a left-handed hitting center fielder, has been one of the better position players in Japan’s NPB. He’s a career .301 hitter and in 2019 he slashed .303/.392/.471 (Pacific League average is .252/.326/.391). His contract with the Seibu Lions is up, and he reportedly wants a shot at the majors.
Over at Baseball Prospectus, Kazuto Yamazaki wrote an excellent profile of the center fielder($), but if you want to see Akiyama at the plate, take a look for yourself.
There’s a lot to like about Akiyama’s game. It should be clear from that highlight reel, but he has an all-fields approach with great bat control. It’s hard to prove this one way or the other, but the Giants don’t seem like a team that’s good at controlling where they hit the ball. Akiyama, however, can put the ball where he wants it, sometimes to deadly effect.
The other OF who is supposedly considering a jump to MLB is Shogo Akiyama. He doesn't have Tsutsugoh's power upside but he's the more complete player, and he can do this. pic.twitter.com/5LvgTrjwdC— Patrick Newman (@npbtracker) October 8, 2019
Akiyama has a good idea of the strike zone and avoids strikeouts at an above average rate. Yamazaki pointed out that he’s able to make mid-pitch adjustments meaning that he can still doink in a pitch that he wasn’t expecting. While his swing is going to create more line drives, he can get low pitches airborne. Yamazaki figures he could be a 20-homer hitter in the current offensive environment if everything breaks right.
The swing also means that he might pound high pitches to the ground, but his speed lets him beat out slow choppers and shots into the hole. The Giants have been sorely lacking speed and dynamism on the basepaths, and Akiyama has shown great baserunning instincts to go with blazing speed.
Yamazaki pegs him for average plate production in the majors with potential for more, but he’s not just line drives. Akiyama is a complete player with a well above average glove in center.
Any team should be interested in a great defender at a premium position with offensive upside especially when he won’t come with a posting fee. However, there are still some things to be wary of.
First, his over-the-fence power won’t play at Oracle Park. The spacious outfield might give him plenty of opportunities to stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples, but the Willie Mays wall would stop most of his flies from going out. His isn’t the first profile you think of when you try to come up with the type of hitter that can beat Oracle. He fits more into the mold of the Sabean-era Giants that were just trying to find the outfield grass. That kind of hitter may not be in vogue right now, but there’s still a place for players who put the ball in play.
Akiyama also fits into the Sabean mold in that he’s a 32-year-old center fielder. He may not have a ton of great seasons left, and the Giants might not be competitive while he’s still good. It’s also hard to know how he’ll adjust to major league pitching at “an advanced age.” If the Giants are trying to get younger, maybe this isn’t the move they want to make.
There’s also the consideration of where he fits on the roster. There’s some redundancy with Kevin Pillar and Steven Duggar. I’m guessing the Giants won’t nontender the Willie Mac Award winner and co-team home run leader, but there has to be a moderate level of concern over Steven Duggar. In 2019, he struggled at the plate while struggling to stay healthy. Akiyama could provide insurance for Duggar in 2020 while providing an option to replace Pillar for 2021 and however long Akiyama stays productive. Even if Duggar is healthy and hitting well, a team that plays at Oracle Park can never have too many center fielders.
For the player reviews this season, we’ve been grading the Giants on how ‘Farhan’ they are, and I think it’s worthwhile to grade pending free agents on the same scale. Ultimately, I’d have to give Akiyama two Farhans out of a possible four.
Akiyama’s defense, speed, plate discipline, and contact are all things Farhan Zaidi is looking for, but Akiyama isn’t a perfect fit for the park. (If the Giants played in Coors, that’d be another story.) He also isn’t a super utility type that can somehow play shortstop and center. He will also cost money, so why would Zaidi pay for an outfielder when he can just get one from the Orioles for free? The odds of seeing Akiyama in a Giants uniform are fairly slim, but he’s still worth consideration.