Reds fans must be patient with slow-starter Shogo Akiyama

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 12: Shogo Akiyama #4 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on during the seventh inning. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 12: Shogo Akiyama #4 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on during the seventh inning. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

Being that we live in a microwave society, fans expect any player who’s in the big leagues to have success from the moment they set foot onto a Major League Baseball field. That wasn’t the case with Cincinnati Reds‘ outfielder Shogo Akiyama last season, and fans should expect the same in 2021 after the Japanese-born outfielder missed the majority of spring training.

Akiyama was called away from the complex in Goodyear following a scary incident with his wife back in Cincinnati. Then, the left-handed hitting Akiyama suffered a hamstring injury prior to the start of the 2021 season.

The stars have not yet aligned for Reds outfielder Shogo Akiyama.

Shogo Akiyama signed a three-year/$21M contract prior to the 2020 season, and many thought the Japanese star would bring a phenomenal presence to the top of the Cincinnati Reds batting order. But things didn’t exactly go the way Akiyama, or the Reds would have hoped.

After a few short weeks in Goodyear, Major League Baseball was forced to pull the plug on spring training following the coronavirus pandemic. Spring training was cut short, players were isolated from one another, and play didn’t resume until the middle of the summer.

You could argue that no one on last year’s Reds team suffered more from the shutdown and pandemic-shortened season than Akiyama. The then-31-year-old hadn’t had the time to get to know his teammates, learn the speed of the game, and a myriad of other things that comes along with shifting from the game in Japan to the game in the United States of America.

Shogo’s struggles were pronounced at the beginning of last season. During the first month, Akiyama hit just .196/.282/.250 with three doubles and triple. The former Seibu Lion struck out 22 times and walked just 10. He looked lost.

However, as the calendar flipped to September, the Cincinnati faithful were finally able to see the player they envisioned when Nick Krall and the Reds’ front office signed Akiyama in December of 2019. Akiyama closed out the season hitting .317/.456/.365 with only 12 strikeouts. He also drew 15 walks and racked up three doubles.

Following another disrupted spring, Shogo Akiyama is struggling.

Shogo Akiyama needs reps, but they’re going to be hard to come by based on David Bell’s current crop of outfielders. Nick Senzel has already been pushed to the infield, and in the process, has displaced rookie second baseman Jonathan India.

Akiyama’s absence from spring training has put him squarely behind Tyler Naquin, and there’s no way Bell can sit Jesse Winker or Nick Castellanos. With both Akiyama and Naquin being left-handed, it’s not as if Bell can even platoon the two outfielders.

It’s a shame that Shogo Akiyama’s first two seasons have seen the 32-year-old struggle as much has he has, but I believe that a good deal of those struggles can be attributed to his lack of playing time. Through no fault of his own, Akiyama has missed a good chunk of spring training, and the lack of time on the field is rearing its ugly head already this season.

Given the current roster, it’s hard to see Shogo Akiyama as anything more than a bench bat or defensive replacement at this time. If Tyler Naquin begins to struggle, perhaps Akiyama will regain his starting spot in the outfield. But, until then, he and the fanbase, must remain patient.

India should be optioned to Triple-A. Next

Akiyama needs to make the most of the opportunities he’s given. So far, he’s 0-for-6. However, Akiyama has struck out just once in those six at-bats, meaning he’s putting the ball in play. That’s the name of the game, though seeing some power would be nice as well. Akiyama has yet to hit a home run in his major league career.