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2023 Positional Preview: Masataka Yoshida Takes Over Left Field

Masataka Yoshida made a splash at the World Baseball Classic: will it translate to MLB?

Boston Red Sox Spring Training Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

After having a rotating cast of fielders standing in front of the Green Monster last season, Chaim Bloom went out and made arguably his biggest splash of the 2022-23 offseason to grab a dedicated left fielder in Masataka Yoshida. But with some surprising performances by depth signings, the Red Sox find themselves with some versatility in left field heading into the 2023 campaign.

The Starter - Masataka Yoshida

There’s a lot to prove for Masataka Yoshida in a Red Sox uniform in his debut MLB season. “Macho Man” was quite the controversial signing for Chaim Bloom and co. during the offseason. The consensus amongst the crowd was split; would he be the contact-hitting machine he made himself up to be in the NPB, or a grossly overpaid stunt signing to make up for the failure to retain Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez as impact players on the roster? Suffice it to say, Yoshida’s performance at the World Baseball Classic turned a lot of heads in one direction.

Masataka Yoshida’s WBC Stats

Player Position Team G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Player Position Team G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Masataka Yoshida LF JPN 7 22 5 9 1 0 2 13 4 1 0 0 0.409 0.531 0.727 1.258
Anyone have any doubt about his ability so far?

Yoshida’s performance certainly has him at the top of my list of players I’m most excited to see in a Red Sox uniform this season. One interesting wrinkle: when he was signed, most people believed he was the heir to the leadoff hitting slot based on their beliefs of his offensive skill set. Alex Cora recently announced Yoshida would start the season batting cleanup. Yoshida . . . doesn’t seem like the prototypical cleanup guy, both as far as metrics and the eye test. Will that last all season? Probably not. However, Cora’s belief in Yoshida and the versatility he has within the lineup is certainly a plus.

What should worry Red Sox fans to start the season is where Yoshida sits defensively. Historically, he has a .987 career fielding percentage. He only started 39 of his 119 games for Orix last season in the field. With only five spring training games under his belt, how well has he truly learned to field one of the most complicated positions in baseball in front of a 37-foot-high wall that can create chaos? That remains to be seen.

That being said, the fact that he played just five spring training games makes his preseason statistics meaningless.

That also being said, this looks VERY nice.

The pressure is on, and Yoshida has already shown that he can handle the spotlight on an international stage. Boston is another world entirely. Is he ready to prove it to Red Sox Nation as well?

The Backup - Raimel Tapia

As Bob Osgood wrote in his right-field position preview, the Red Sox are almost forced to give Tapia a shot on the Opening Day roster. Slashing .317/.378/.963 with two dingers and five RBIs, he absolutely ran with his opportunity as a non-roster invitee this preseason. He played four games each in LF, CF, and RF so don’t be surprised to see him in this piece as well as Bob’s and any updated center field projections as well. Rob Refnseyder played six games in left field for the Red Sox this season, which isn’t exactly encouraging. However, knowing he’s breaking camp with the team, it’s hard not to include him as a last-resort option.

Minor League Depth

The Red Sox signed Greg Allen to a minor-league deal with an invite to Major League camp in mid-January. How has that panned out so far? He slashed .200/.306/.706 with one HR. eight RBIs and four stolen bases. Not prolific, but what he does provide is a switch-hitting balance (i.e. the Red Sox would use him as a right-handed bat in this writer’s opinion) to their currently left-handed heavy options. Looking further down, Wilyer Abreu, acquired last season in the Christian Vazquez trade from the Astros, is listed as playing all outfield positions, though has his primary position as a right fielder. He’s strong and athletic but has a long way to grow to show he’s worth playing in the big leagues. Otherwise, this is a position that the Red Sox are sorely lacking organizational depth. The hope is that Yoshida mans the Monster for long enough to find their next prospect star (either by the draft or switching one of their many versatile defensive prospects to hit the no. 7 position).

Fangraphs’ Boston Red Sox 2023 Left Field Projections

Red Sox Left Field Projections

Masataka Yoshida 123 532 18 0.302 0.379 0.484 0.37 138 3.5
Raimel Tapia 31 133 2 0.272 0.314 0.392 0.308 95 0.3
Hopefully this inspires a little faith, as Yoshida looks projected for a very solid first season in MLB.

Divisional Rankings

  1. Randy Arozarena
  2. Austin Hays
  3. Masataka Yoshida
  4. Daulton Varsho
  5. Aaron Hicks

I think everyone can agree that Randy Arozarena is a superstar in the making. An absolute heel to play against but also beyond fun to watch. Just look at his performance in the WBC for Mexico: clutch homers, insane defense, and the best poses that even Shohei Ohtani can’t help but join in on. He’s going to be a nightmare to face in Tampa Bay.

Austin Hays mashed 16 HRs for the O’s last season, and on a team with Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and Ryan Mountcastle, this group is going to make a very strong core for Baltimore for a very, very long time. This will be Hays’ third full-time MLB season and should be expected to be a very regular contributor to the Camden Yards crew. Daulton Varsho just came to Toronto in a trade this offseason that sent Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to Arizona. Last season, he slashed .235/.302/.443 with 27 homers and 74 RBIs. In a lineup where he can be shielded more by guys like Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and George Springer, he could be primed to break out for the Jays. Why do I have the Yankees last? They have a very strange outfield situation. Aaron Judge is primarily a right-fielder, but so is Giancarlo Stanton, when he fields. Harrison Bader is traditionally a center-fielder. How often are we going to see either Judge or Bader in left when Stanton dons the glove? What about Oswaldo Peraza, who can play all over their outfield? Is he breaking camp alongside Anthony Volpe? That’s what throws this situation off. The only dedicated left-fielder on their roster is Aaron Hicks, and if that’s what I’m going off of, that’s not very good for the pinstripes.