Macho Man poised for breakout sophomore campaign

February 22nd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Ian Browne's Red Sox Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In his sophomore season with the Red Sox -- and in the United States -- ’s goal is to improve his stamina so he can finish the same way he starts.

That wasn’t the case last season, even though his rookie year wasn’t so bad. In 140 games (580 plate appearances), Yoshida had a batting line of .289/.338/.445 with 15 homers and 72 RBIs.

On Aug. 1, he was slashing .306/.367/.484 with 12 homers and 53 RBIs. From there, his line dropped to .251/.271/.363, with three homers and 19 RBIs in his final 171 at-bats.

But now, Yoshida has a full year under his belt of adapting to a new culture, getting to know his teammates and knowing what to expect through the rigors of a Major League season.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see why Yoshida wore down over the final two months of last year. Admirably, he was one of the first players to report to Spring Training in 2023 because he wanted to get a jump-start on adjusting to things before going back to Japan for the start of the World Baseball Classic.

Yoshida was a hero for Team Japan en route to the country’s third title, setting a tournament record with 13 RBIs.

It was an exhausting and exhilarating experience for Yoshida, but one he admitted might have subtracted from his performance for Boston.

“Obviously, with the WBC and all that, I accomplished some stuff on the personal side, but as a team with the Red Sox, we couldn't accomplish what we'd hoped,” Yoshida said. “So that's something that I'm kind of trying to go for, trying to aim for, and if I can, I want to contribute to the victories of the team as much as I can.”

It wasn’t just the World Baseball Classic. Yoshida said the travel during a Major League Baseball season was different than what he was used to in Japan.

“Time difference, that was something that I didn't get to experience in Japan,” Yoshida said. “So that was something new to me. And in Japan, we take public transportation, and charter and take a private plane. So that was something different, too. And sometimes, after the game, we’d hop on the plane and get back to Boston in the early morning, so that was something new as well."

This year, he will be ready for that. The way Yoshida puts it, it is a matter of acceptance.

“I think it all comes down to accepting the difference,” Yoshida said. “Obviously, there's a difference between Japan and the U.S., so I'm trying to adapt myself and trying to accept the difference -- that’s the adjustment that I made last year.”

Another thing Yoshida will have to accept is far more time at DH than the 49 games he started there last year. Two things have changed. Justin Turner -- last year’s primary DH -- is now with the Blue Jays, and the Sox want to be more athletic in the outfield.

“Obviously whatever role [manager Alex Cora] gives me, I'm trying to do my best I can,” Yoshida said. “Whatever role I get, that's what I'm going to do. And obviously, I'm here to contribute to the team and contribute to the victories of the team and, you know, offensively, defensively, I just want to stay ready at all times.”

In other words, Yoshida isn’t going to short-change the work he puts in on defense during Spring Training.

“Defensively, obviously, the stadiums and ballparks are different from Japan, the fences and the structure of it,” Yoshida said. “So there's a lot to still adjust to, but I want to stay ready, and I've been working with [outfield coach Kyle Hudson] on footwork and everything.”

It stands to reason that Yoshida will be on far more solid footing in 2024.

“Now that I’ve spent one year in the big leagues, I know my routines at home and away, so I’m ready for that,” Yoshida said.

Has Yoshida set any offensive goals for himself in ‘24?

“The main thing I kind of focus on is trying to hit the ball hard,” he said. “The outcome, I can't really control. But the process of it, I can control that. So that's something that I want to focus on this year offensively."