Along with Lee Jung-hoo, Tsutsugo is the other Asian player

South Korean slugging sensation Lee Jung-hoo, 25, has been announced as the San Francisco Giants’ opening day No. 1 hitter, while Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, 32, is making his major league debut for the same team as a minor leaguer.

Along with Lee Jung-hoo, Tsutsugo is the other Asian player at Scottsdale Stadium in Scottsdale, Arizona, where San Francisco’s camp is set up. Tsutsugo, who signed a minor league contract with San Francisco last December, joined the Giants this spring training as an invitee. His status is different from Lee’s, who is already the centerpiece of the team.

Tsutsugo, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-handed hitting first baseman

Was a big gun in Nippon Professional Baseball. After making his debut with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in 2010, he went on to play in 10 seasons through 2019, batting .910 with 205 home runs, 613 RBIs and an OPS of .910 in 968 games (3426 hits, 977 at-bats). He has consistently hit 20 or more home runs for six straight years since 2014, including leading the Central League in home runs with 44 in 2016.

Tsutsugo, who was also selected to the 2015 WBSC Premier 12 and 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC) Japan squads, capitalized on his success and made the jump to Major League Baseball in 2020. He signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays and recorded his first hit off Toronto Blue Jays starter Hyun-jin Ryu in the pandemic-delayed opener on July 25, but struggled from there, finishing the season with a 1-for-197 (.197) average. He did hit eight home runs, but his OPS of .708 was not productive enough.

He struggled again in 2021, going 1-for-6 in 26 games with Tampa Bay, and was designated for assignment (DFA) in mid-May. He was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Dodgers and spent time at Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he adjusted his hitting mechanics but only played 12 games due to a calf injury. He batted just 1-for-1 (.120) with the Dodgers and was DFA’d again in early July. No team wanted him, so he was designated for assignment to the minors.

After being released by the Dodgers in mid-August,

Tsutsugo rebounded by signing a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was called up to the big leagues in mid-August and burst onto the scene with a 43-game batting average of 26-for-34 (127 RBI), eight home runs, 25 RBI, 스포츠토토 and an .883 OPS. After the season, he signed a one-year, $4 million deal with Pittsburgh. He re-signed with Pittsburgh, who took a chance on him over other teams that offered multi-year deals, but he struggled with a back injury in 2022, batting just 1-for-17 (29-for-170) with two home runs, 19 RBIs, and a .478 OPS in 50 games.

He was eventually designated for assignment by Pittsburgh in early August. His third release since coming to the United States. There were rumors of a return to Japan, but he signed a minor league contract with Toronto and finished the season here. After the season, there were offers from Japan, but Tsutsugo stayed in the United States. He signed a minor contract with the Texas Rangers. At the time, Tsutsugo said, “I never thought about playing in Japan. I’ve been dreaming of playing in the U.S. since I was a kid, and I don’t want to give up that easily. This is the best option for me,” he said.

Last year, however, he didn’t get a single major league at-bat. In 51 games at Triple-A, he batted 2-for-42 (169 at-bats) with six home runs, 33 RBIs and an .812 OPS, not bad, but nothing spectacular. His offensive production was lacking considering his positioning, which was limited to first base and designated hitter, although he could also play corner outfield and third base.

He was optioned out of Texas in mid-June.

It was the fourth time he left the team during the season after coming to the United States, and this time he thought he would return to Japan. In August, he played for the Staten Island Perry Hosk of the Atlantic League in the American Independent League, where he hit hard. Within three weeks, he signed a minor league contract with San Francisco, but a thumb injury forced him to finish the year without a big league call-up.

As a free agent again, returning to Japan was not an option for Tsutsugo. He decided to stay in the United States and signed another minor contract with San Francisco in December. Japanese teams, including his hometown team, Yokohama DeNA, wanted to sign him, but that didn’t deter Tsutsugo. San Francisco, in need of a big bat, signed Tsutsugo to a minor league contract as a backup, but with Ramonte Wade Jr. and Wilmer Flores at first base and designated hitter, the competition is stiff.

He’s in his fifth year in the United States. He has been released four times in four years, and his minor league career is getting longer and longer, but he is still chasing his dream with a guaranteed stay in Japan. We wonder if Tsutsugo can fulfill his dream in San Francisco.

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