Shogo Akiyama arrived in Cincinnati on Monday to undergo a physical and officially sign his contract with the Reds. He visited Montgomery Inn, where he ordered a steak and a Mt. Carmel beer, and then visited Skyline on Tuesday, where he had a 4-way. (No news on whether he went with the onion or the bean.)
On Wednesday, though, Akiyama was officially introduced to a large contingent of Cincinnati media and reporters from Japanese news outlets who came to cover the official announcement of the Reds’ first Japanese player.
Dick Williams introduced him by saying, “It’s now safe to say it’s officially Sho-Time.” But that nickname is actually already taken by Shohei Ohtani, a player that the Reds tried to get but ultimately lost out on. So we’re here to propose a new nickname for Shogo.
When Akiyama steps up to the plate for his first at-bat as a Cincinnati Red, it will likely be in the leadoff spot. In his past five years with the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball, Akiyama had a .399 OBP. He also broke Ichiro’s NPB record by recording 216 hits in a season. His focus is on hitting, as he said in his press conference through his translator, Roger Kahlon, “I focus more on contact, getting on base and helping my team get runs.” When he leads off on Opening Day, it will officially be “Go Time”.
The Reds are in dire need of both of those. The club finished 12th in the National League in OBP and runs scored last year. While their run differential wasn’t terrible because of their stellar pitching last year, they finished the season at 24-33 in one run games. Signing a guy like Akiyama that consistently gets on base will be crucial for Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Mike Moustakas to drive in runs early. The Reds led baseball last year with 131 first inning runs, but couldn’t add on often enough to close out games. If the Reds try to keep that same early lead strategy in 2020, Akiyama will be a perfect lead-off man, one that the Reds have been looking for since the departure of Shin-Soo Choo six years ago. He also will most likely take that weight off of the shoulders of Nick Senzel and Jesse Winker, both younger players that David Bell put at the top of the lineup early last year.
Shogo Akiyama mostly played centerfield in his time with the Seibu Lions. But with the Reds, he will be expected to play multiple positions in the outfield, as he, Bell and Dick Williams mentioned yesterday in their press hits. The theory among some of #RedsTwitter, which I can get behind, is that Akiyama will most likely take left field while Senzel stays in center, Winker and Aristedes Aquino platoon in right and Phillip Ervin comes off the bench in the 26th player spot. Michael Lorenzen is also expected to be a late-game defensive option after he pitches. This way, Senzel can continue to play every day, Bell can finally figure out what he has in Winker, Aquino and Ervin, and Akiyama will be able to contribute daily while not being expected to cover alley to alley.
This should be a much better upgrade in left field than the guys the Reds were running out in mid-August, which included Jose Peraza and Josh Vanmeter. They unfortunately showed in their play that they are more infielders than outfielders. With this move, though, the Reds have more than enough outfielders for depth and are versatile in how Bell can build his daily lineup.
Overall, it was a good signing for the Reds. An experienced player like Akiyama doesn’t usually come at an affordable price tag like $21 million over three years. It was also the right time for the Reds to sign their first-ever player from Japan, and end the run of being the only team in Major League Baseball that had not signed a Japanese-born player. But just remember one thing, Reds fans.
It’s not Sho-Time. It’s Go Time.