Yoshi Tsutsugo

Yoshi Tsutsugo has spent time at third base and in left field for Tampa Bay Rays this spring. 

It’s still fairly early in spring training, but just short of a month after the Rays pitchers and catchers first reported to Port Charlotte one thing has not changed.

Despite some strong outings from the pitching staff, despite a hot start for Willy Adames and cold one from Austin Meadows, the most buzz-worthy Tampa Bay player remains Yoshi Tsutsugo.

The Rays big free agent signee has cooled a bit after a hot start. He’s batting .250 with a homer and 3 RBIs in 20 spring at bats heading into Sunday’s action. But the 28 year old remains one of the more intriguing players in camp.

Manager Kevin Cash is enamored with his bat.

“He’s looked really good. (We like) the way he’s swung the bat,” Cash said this week. “The type of at bats that he has are very competitive. He’s got a chance to be a special player.”

Tsutsugo, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal in December, brought a power bat with him from Japan. He hit 44 homers and drove in 110 runs in 2016 and hit 38 and 89 as recently as 2018, while compiling a .284 career batting average in 10 seasons with Yokohama.

“I don’t think we could be more excited about him,” Cash said. “There were some questions for sure, but we were confident we got a really good player. He’s shown that.”

In the field, he’s spent time in left and at third base while also serving as a DH, just as he’s expected to do during the regular season. In Japan, he started 27 games at third last season (one error). He tried to lower expectations prior to his first start at third, saying through his interpreter Louis Chao: “I’ll do my best. Hopefully, I can make some good plays. But please don’t expect too much right now.’’

But he has been a pleasant surprise with the glove, Cash feels he’s been comfortable at both positions. While teammate Kevin Kiermaier was even more effusive.

“He has a sneaky, pretty dang good arm,” the Gold Glove center fielder said earlier in camp. “I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people with what he’s capable of (on defense).”

Perhaps the biggest question wasn’t about his on-field ability at all, but how a player who only conducts interviews through an interpreter, would fit into the Rays tight-knit clubhouse.

There were hints early on that he has the personality to overcome the language barrier.

After Tsutsugo’s first home run, Adames greeted him as he crossed the plate with a slight bow, which Tsutsugo returned.

When asked about a catch the speedy Kiermaier made in center during his first game in left, he joked: “I’ve never seen someone run that fast besides me in the outfield.’’

And when asked if he’d also go into the weight room with muscle-bound teammate Yandy Diaz, Tsutsugo said, “If I watch him do his weights I’ll lose my confidence, so I prefer not to.’’

Cash believes Tsutsugo’s comfort level is growing on a daily basis and, in the end, that will benefit the Rays in more ways than one.

“It seems that he’s enjoying himself,” he said. “Watching the interactions, even during a mound visit, there’s a lot of interaction going on.

“When we signed him, we heard for the six or seven years that he was in Japan, he was viewed as a leader on that team. You definitely see those traits and attributes that over time, with some comfort, he’s probably going to be one of our leaders.”

Email Sun Sports Editor Scott Zucker at scott.zucker@yoursun.com and follow him on Twitter



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