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What to expect from Rays slugger Yoshi Tsutsugo? Ask a former teammate

Rays Tales: Reliever Spencer Patton said Tsutsugo is a good teammate and hitter but transition will be tough. Also, rumblings.
Tampa Bay Rays Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is seen during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019 in St. Petersburg. The outfielder/third baseman was signed to a two-year, $12-million deal, with the Rays also paying $2.4 million to his Japanese team.
Tampa Bay Rays Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is seen during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019 in St. Petersburg. The outfielder/third baseman was signed to a two-year, $12-million deal, with the Rays also paying $2.4 million to his Japanese team. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Dec. 21, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Having done extensive research before committing nearly $15 million, the Rays have a pretty good idea of what they’re hoping to see from Yoshi Tsutsugo, the new slugger brought in from Japan.

We’ve got some insight from Spencer Patton, a former Rangers and Cubs reliever who spent the last four seasons playing alongside Tsutsugo with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.

Overall Patton had good things to say about Tsutsugo as a teammate and a leader and thinks he’ll be a good fit with the Rays and in the Trop. He praised his quick bat, overall hitting ability and specifically being able to use the whole field. He said the comparison to Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber “is a good one,’’ though maybe with not as much power, at least initially.

But he also cautioned about the challenges Tsutsugo, 28, will have overall culturally and especially in facing big-league pitching.

“It’s a tough adjustment,’’ Patton said. “There’s only been, what, maybe two Japanese guys that have come over and really done it successfully (Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki)? And now (Shohei) Ohtani.

Related: Inside story of how Rays made their pitch to Tsutsugo

“I hope he does well. I hope he has longevity in the States. It will be a challenge for him I think at first. He’s such an easy-going going guy and willing to learn and get better, he’ll work it at it.

“The biggest thing in Japan, at least in our division, we’re not used to seeing guys throwing mid- to upper-90s every day, and with ungodly breaking stuff. That’s going to be the tell right there. How he adjusts to the different velocities and different changes of speed and seeing different types of breaking stuff he’s not used to.’’

Patton said Tsutsugo, as the BayStars captain, was “a good teammate to have,’’ outgoing and inclusive in the clubhouse, advocating for all players, reaching out in their native language.

“He loves the Latin culture,’’ Patton said. “He tried to speak Spanish. We always had Latin music playing in the clubhouse. He’s going to take to those guys really well.’’

Also interesting, Patton said Tsutsugo is “not the traditional Japanese type player at all, by any stretch of the imagination.’’

For example, whereas most Japanese players go along with their extensive and regimented training methods, Tsutsugo has been open, and pushing for change, to a style that more common in the majors now, and definitely with the Rays.

“He’s kind of looking for new ways to bring energy to the ballpark and do things differently as far as (batting practice) and in the clubhouse,’’ Patton said. “Every day he’s like, when can we have a show and go?” He understands BP for two hours every day is not always necessary. …

“He’s got what I would say is a big-league feel over there.’’

Adios Avisail

Outfielder Avisail Garcia enjoyed being with the Rays but was looking to cash in on his strong 2019 season, and did by spurning an offer to return and signing with the Brewers. Garcia, who made $3.5 million last year, got $20 million guaranteed over two years in Milwaukee, with a 2022 option that could push the deal to the $30 million he was seeking.

Garcia posted thanks on Instagram to the Rays front office, staff and fans for the "special season,'' and of his teammates: “You are my brothers forever, I love you all.'' Manager Kevin Cash texted with Garcia, saying “He was awesome. I appreciated his efforts on and off the field. He carried himself really, really well.’’

All three Rays free agents got paid well: Travis d’Arnaud $16 million over two years from Atlanta, Eric Sogard $4.5 million with an option from Milwaukee.

Rays rumblings

Hearing Kevin Burkhardt will be back doing some games on TV in a similar role to last season, filling in occasionally for Dewayne Staats. … Fan Fest is set for Feb. 8 at the Trop. Most details are to come, but there are plans for a “giant Blake Snell bobblehead photo experience.” … The Rays’ determination to push the Montreal season-sharing plan and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s willingness to listen will make for much interesting 2020 discussion. … Re-signing Andy Freed to keep him teamed with Dave Wills and Neil Solondz on radio was a good move. … New minor-league coordinator hires include Chris Prieto (outfield/baserunning, from Mariners), Rolando Garza (pitching, from Pepperdine), Greg Brown (hitting, from Nova Southeastern). Internal promotions include Dan DeMent (hitting), Alejandro Freire (field). … With the addition of Tsutsugo, it’s hard to see Nate Lowe, who debuted last season, fitting in well on the roster. … Prospect Lucius Fox is a host for an MLB Play Ball event in his native Bahamas in addition to an annual fundraising home run derby Jan. 3-4. … Tsutsugo appreciated the singing cheer Yokohama fans did, and said he knows it will be different here since “there are no instruments allowed” in the stadiums “but I’m excited to hear the live roar of the fans.’’ … Jim Bowden gave the Rays a B+ in his mid-offseason grades for The Athletic, calling prospect Xavier Edwards “the key” to the Tommy Pham-Hunter Renfroe trade the signing of Tsutsugo “a worthwhile gamble.’’ … Joe Maddon (who left the Rays after the 2014 season) was No. 2 (behind Bruce Bochy) on mlb.com’s list of top managers for the 2010s, with Kevin Cash an honorable mention pick. … Paul Kirsch, a 1996 original hire by the Rays, was given a lifetime achievement award from the Pacific Northwest scouts association. … A 40th anniversary of the 1980 World Series champion Phillies will be held March 16 at Clearwater’s Capitol Theatre featuring Pete Rose, Steve Carlton, Greg Luzinski and Larry Bowa and hosted by Chris Wheeler. Tickets, starting at $39.50, are available via rutheckerdhall.com. … Reliever Wade Davis (traded in December 2012) and starter David Price (July 2014) were second-team picks for mlb.com’s all-decade team.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.