March 4, 2024

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Scouting Yoshinobu Yamamoto: Why the Dodgers think he'll succeed in MLB

Scouting Yoshinobu Yamamoto: Why the Dodgers think he'll succeed in MLB

LOS ANGELES — As Yoshinobu Yamamoto donned his new uniform for the first time, his blue jacket standing out beneath the Los Angeles Dodgers' white, it was a coronation: a coronation for an organization that had looked up to him for years, and one for the 25-year-old Japanese right-hander who had signed The richest contract for a pitcher in baseball history before he even pitched in the major leagues.

The record contract and strong market were an indication that the Dodgers' bullish opinion of him was shared. His track record of dominance in his home country has been well documented. His age presented a unique opportunity. As his new club officially introduced him on Wednesday, the man he saw as much as everyone else in the organization had a front row seat.

Galen Carr, the Dodgers' vice president of player personnel, wasn't the only one who watched Yamamoto play last season. Both President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and General Manager Brandon Gomez made trips to Osaka, Japan to see this season's newest prize in person with the Orix Buffaloes, with Gomez speaking about the experience of witnessing Yamamoto's intricacies in real time. Ron Dibble, the club's Pacific Scouting Director, has done his share of travelling. So did Pacific Rim Club advisor Yugo Suzuki and professional scout Jason Lane. Even manager Dave Roberts spent much of the club's recruitment of Yamamoto researching video (as did a lot of other employees). One of the club's players, Austin Barnes, has also seen Yamamoto — he faced him during the World Baseball Classic in March. However, it was Carr, who has seen Yamamoto an estimated 16 times over the past few seasons, who saw him the most, and who received rave reviews from Gomez, Roberts and others.

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“He's been doing what he's been doing for a long time,” Carr said in a conversation with . The athlete on Thursday, noting a track record that has seen Yamamoto receive the Sawamura Award (Nippon Professional Baseball's equivalent of the Cy Young Award) three consecutive times. “Ever since he reached the top level in Japan, he has basically been in lights out mode.”

That includes a 1.72 career ERA in 188 games in Japan, a run that has put him firmly on the radar of many of baseball's wealthier clubs and makes a compelling case for what he can accomplish next. He will be paid $325 million over the next 12 years to prove it, a significant investment for a Dodgers organization that typically mitigates risk.

Given what they saw, they were willing to endure it.

Carr pointed to Yamamoto's adaptability, including a surprise in the spring when several members of the Dodgers arrived at Miyazaki's Japanese samurai training camp to find that Yamamoto had radically changed his delivery, extinguishing his leg kick in favor of a sliding step to aid in control. In the running game and shortening his movement towards the plate. Doing so after achieving any amount of success is “really rare,” Carr said. To do that after dominating the league, and come out and put in a better 2023?

“It's amazing what he's been able to do,” Carr said, complementing not only his ability to retrain his body but also the positions he can replicate even with his 5-foot-10 frame.

This has been adapted and preserved through the teachings of Japanese expert Yata-sensei, who will accompany Yamamoto to his new home in Los Angeles, said Joel Wolf, Yamamoto's agent. Training methods focus on “breathing, flexibility, yoga and core training,” and include a range of exercises that focus more on miniature soccer balls and javelin throwing than on weightlifting, Wolfe said. Carr and other club staff have turned visits to Osaka into opportunities to ask and learn more about these methods as well.

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“One of the big things that caught our attention is that everything he does is not as conventional as our understanding of the training methods in our sport that we work in, but obviously the results speak for themselves,” Carr said. “I think in terms of injury rates and the number of pitchers who end up breaking down in the United States, I don't think anyone in Major League Baseball would say we have training methods for pitchers that we've figured out.”

It has certainly translated into a repeatable delivery and arsenal, e.g The athleteEno Sarris has collapsed, competing against some of the best players in the sport and whose fundamental data has been thoroughly vetted. There's still some adjusting to the MLB ball, which lacks some of the grip-enhancing touches on the NPB that Yamamoto is accustomed to, though the right-hander used a similar ball during this year's WBC. The Dodgers may have to adjust their plans to help Yamamoto adjust to his schedule after pitching once a week in Japan. While Gomez said Thursday it was uncertain whether the club would adopt a six-man rotation, only five clubs in baseball have had more extra relief than the Dodgers since Friedman took over. If this arsenal is anything to go by, it's a dynamic, five-layer mix that includes what Gomez called something “really special.” He knows how to use it, and Carr noted in several posts that Yamamoto's sequence helped alleviate the rare problem he found himself in in the pocket last season. That, coupled with the Dodgers' game planning, could translate into immediate results, Carr said.

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The Dodgers are buying a 12-year outfielder not just for what he is, but for what he could be. The choices are confusing, and the risks are high. It has been the object of the organization's passion for years, the kind of investment the club would have paid for even before it began a record-setting path. His mere presence has helped change the future of a Dodgers team that has talent, but a lot of uncertainty. The club is in a position to take on this.

So does Yamamoto, says the man who has seen him more than anyone else in his new organization.

“He's just an exceptional athlete and his raw skills across the board are exceptional,” Carr said. “And there's no other way to describe it. … We clearly weren't the only ones who felt that way in our industry.

“It's kind of like how you paint it.”

(Top photo by Yoshinobu Yamamoto: Kevork Djancesian/Getty Images)