Can Tanaka make a smooth transition to MLB?Yankees hopeful the hard-throwing righty can replicate Japanese success
Background: Masahiro Tanaka is a 25-year-old Japanese starting pitcher who signed with the Yankees this offseason. In his seven seasons in Japan, Tanaka went 99-35 with a 2.30 overall ERA. He signed a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees this offseason and was one of their biggest free-agent signings in recent memory. Tanaka is known for a devastating fastball, slider, split-finger combo.
2013 Season: Tanaka had an outstanding 2013 season in Japan for the Rakuten Golden Eagles. He went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 28 games, striking out 183 batters and walking only 32.
Greatest Strength: Tanaka has such good stuff that it's hard to pinpoint just one strength. He has good velocity and outstanding control. He's thrown just over nine innings so far this spring and has given up two runs on seven hits, striking out 10. Off the field, Tanaka has also handled the media scrutiny extremely well. Japanese and American reporters are watching his every move, and yet it doesn't seem to be affecting his demeanor or performance.
Greatest Weakness: Tanaka obviously doesn't have a lot of experience, considering he's a rookie. Japanese hitters aren't near the Major League Baseball level, and it's going to be an adjustment when Tanaka faces some of the stacked lineups in the AL East. He's going to be pitching in big situations and hostile environments, and there's no reason to think he can't handle the pressure. He just hasn't had the opportunity yet.
Prediction: Just from watching Tanaka this spring, it's easy to see why the Yankees coveted him so much. He is confident and poised on the mound, and his stuff is making hitters look foolish. Whether he's the second, third or fourth starter on this team -- the Yankees are lucky to have him. Expect over 15 wins, even in his rookie year, with an ERA around 3.50.