Tetsuto Yamada

Date: 05/18/16
Position: 2B
Age: 23
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 160
B/T: R/R
Acquisition Period: 1st Rd., 2010 NPB Draft (Tokyo Yakult Swallows)
School: Riseisha H.S. (Osaka)

NPB Prospect Profile

Yamada may be the biggest surprise in Japan over the last two-plus seasons. Drafted out of high school in 2011, he had an almost immediate impact for Yakult’s big league club. Shades of Chase Utley (2B, Dodgers) in his prime and Mookie Betts (RF, Red Sox) come to mind when you see this kid play. Yamada is of smaller stature, but he has incredible fast-twitch and hand speed that allows him to generate tremendous carry. He wrapped up his MVP campaign in 2015 by cracking three home runs in game three of the Japan Series. He has the big Asian-style leg kick for timing, but his swing is relatively simple, and he does a tremendous job keeping the barrel in the zone.

He left the yard 29 and 38 times in 2014 and 2015, hit 39 doubles both years, and sported ridiculous .941 and 1.027 OPS marks. And all he’s done in 2016 is demolish NPB pitching to the tune of 11 doubles, 12 HRs and an OPS up over 1.000 through 43 games. When he doesn’t leave the park, he isn’t having any trouble making it to first base with a .450 OPB thanks to 32 walks and just 32 K’s. He’s also added 10 stolen bases and has yet to be caught. He swiped 34 bags last season and was only caught four times, so it’s easy to forecast that the running will continue.

While it’s easy to see this type of offensive output continuing the next few seasons in Japan, and were he to come over now, I think a Betts-type projection would not be a stretch. That said, I don’t expect him to show up on any MLB rosters any time soon; he still has another five full seasons before he reaches his free agent status (per NPB regulations). Posting, while an option, is likely a few years away as well–Yakult plays in the huge Tokyo market and competes directly with the two powerhouses of Japanese baseball, the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers. So their need to hang on to special players like Yamada is immense.

Of course anything can happen, but I would expect them to hang on to Yamada as long as possible, just like they did with Nori Aoki when they waited until 2011, the year before he would have been a free agent, to post him.