2023 AL Rookie of the Year odds: Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida gets boost at sportsbooks with impressive World Baseball Classic for Japan
Many around baseball were perplexed when the Boston Red Sox gave Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida a five-year deal worth around $90 million this winter because some evaluators thought Yoshida would be just a decent, contact-hitting player at the MLB level. Moreover, Red Sox fans thought the club should have used the money to re-sign All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Maybe Sox officials were right on Yoshida, though, as he has been so good during the World Baseball Classic that he's up to a +700 second favorite at Caesars Sportsbook to win 2023 AL Rookie of the Year.
Japan rallied for a 6-5 walk-off win over Mexico in the semifinals of the WBC in Miami on Monday and will play Team USA for the title Tuesday. Japan trailed 3-0 when Yoshida stepped to the plate with two on and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, and Yoshida hit JoJo Romero's pitch down the right field line for a game-tying three-run home run.
"I know my hand was a little shivering," Yoshida said. "But I know that there was a good connection … I remember I stepped into the box with a belief in myself."
Yoshida now has 13 RBI in the World Baseball Classic, a tournament record. That broke Wladimir Balentien's mark of 12, which he set in 2017 playing for the Netherlands. Yoshida is hitting a robust .474 and is likely to win the tournament's MVP honors if Japan wins the title.
Many were skeptical of the Yoshida signing because of his presumed lack of power at 5-foot-8 and the not-great history of Japanese power hitters in the big leagues, with the exception of Yoshida's current Japan teammate Shohei Ohtani and Hideki Matsui. There's no question that Yoshida can get on base, though. He walked 80 times last season with just 41 strikeouts, posting a .447 on-base percentage with the Orix Buffaloes. Yoshida hit 21 homers and had a career high of 29 in 2019.
When Boston signed Yoshida, it originally was speculated that manger Alex Cora might hit him leadoff. But Cora instead plans on hitting him in the cleanup spot. One book lists Yoshida's over/under season home-run total at just 19.5. As for Boston's leadoff role, Cora added that it could be a "mix-and-match" assignment.
Boston's last AL Rookie of the Year-winner was second baseman Dustin Pedroia in 2007. Yoshida got just five spring at-bats before leaving to train for the WBC but presumably will rejoin the Red Sox this week and get in a few more games ahead of Opening Day on March 30, when Boston hosts Baltimore. The Orioles' Gunnar Henderson is the +300 AL Rookie of the Year favorite.
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