Yoshinobu Yamamoto is one of the most hyped international prospects in recent history. The Japanese superstar ace is coming off a year that would have rivaled a year from prime Bob Gibson or Pedro Martinez. Now Yamamoto looks to take his extreme talent stateside and land a Major League Baseball contract.
In 171 innings for the Orix Buffaloes, Yamamoto worked to a 1.16 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 6.3 K:BB ratio. Yamamoto had just a 4.2% walk rate, as well as a healthy 26.7% strikeout rate, and allowed home runs at a 0.11-per-9 pace. This will mark the third season in a row Yamamoto has posted a sub-2.00 ERA and the fourth time he’s done that throughout his career. Yamamoto’s highest single-season ERA comes in at just 2.35, which was back in his 2017 rookie campaign, as a 17-year-old and in less than 60 innings. Yamamoto has also posted a sub-1.00 WHIP every year since 2017.
Yamamoto has the stuff to be a quality big league regular. Yamamoto typically sits around 94-96 MPH but can crank it up into the upper-90s when needed. He can manipulate his four-seamer as well to make it sink, cut, or ride through the zone. Yamamoto’s fastball may have plus potential, but it’s not his best pitch. That title would belong to his spitter. Yamamoto’s primary breaking pitch is a 12-6 curveball, and his secondary breaker is a slider.
Yamamoto has excellent control and command. He’s also an athletic presence on the mound, as he’s one of the most athletic pitchers in the NBP. Yamamoto is on the smaller side for a pitcher at 5’10”, 176 pounds. But you can’t deny the talent regardless of his smaller stature. He could make waves in 2024.
Is this unrealistic? Well, maybe not entirely. Cherington has hinted at the Pirates potentially being aggressive in international free agency. The Pirates have shown great interest in Yamamoto, and I believe they will make a competitive offer to the right-handed starting pitcher. But it will probably take a lot to get him to sign. He'll probably get offered something similar to Masahiro Tanaka did in the 2013-2014 off-season, which was a seven-year deal worth $155 million. That's a major ask from the Pirates, though if they truly are serious about exploring the International market, and Yoshinobu is at the top of their lits, they should go big or go home.