Cincinnati Reds: Fans should be patient with newcomer Shogo Akiyama

As Shogo Akiyama makes his MLB debut this season with the Cincinnati Reds, what can one reasonably expect from the left-handed hitting outfielder?

It’s impossible to know exactly what kind of numbers Shogo Akiyama is going to produce in his rookie season with the Cincinnati Reds. Anyone that says differently is simply offering a guess and nothing more. However, there are plenty of opinions on Akiyama’s debut season to be found.

Dan Szymborski, Senior Writer for Fangraphs and author of ZiPS projections, predicts an excellent season for the Japanese import. Based on 600 at-bats, Szymborski predicts Akiyama to finish the upcoming season with 18 homers, 71 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and 32 doubles. If Akiyama can post those types of numbers, Reds Country will be in a state of euphoria.

Site projections at ESPN are relatively high on Akiyama as well. They foresee a slash line of .267/.345/.422 with 16 home runs, 50 runs knocked in, 12 steals and 24 doubles based on 502 at-bats. Again, not a bad season at all for the soon to be 32-year-old five time Japanese League All-Star.

Call me the contrarian, but my expectations are a little more conservative. My reasoning is based on another player who made the jump from the Japanese League to MLB at roughly the same age. One who experienced similar success in Japan. That player is former Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Nori Aoki.

Like Akiyama, Aoki was a left-handed hitting outfielder who spent nearly a decade excelling in the Japanese League. Aoki made his debut with Milwaukee at age 30 after producing a .326/.401/.455 slash line with the Yakult Swallows. Akiyama produced a slightly less impressive slash line of .301/.376/.454 playing nine seasons for the Seibu Lions.

In his first season in America, Nori Aoki compiled a .288/.355/.433 slash line in 520 at-bats for the 2012 Brewers. An excellent season by anyone’s standards, but the batting average fell by 42 points, while his OBP took a 46 point dip from what he produced in Japan.

If Shogo Akiyama experiences a comparable drop in his numbers, a 2020 season slash line of .260/.330/.432 seems to be a good bet. Considering the MLB average slash line in 2019 was .252/.323/.435, I predict Akiyama to be a slightly above-average hitter.

This in no way dampens my enthusiasm for Shogo Akiyama and the Cincinnati Reds. I’m excited to see him play, and even at the low end of the projection scale, he’ll prove to be a valuable asset for manager David Bell. However, Reds Country should be prepared to extend the organizations first Japanese player a little patience and,  as a result, I anticipate they will be rewarded.