The most dominant pitcher in Japan could be on the verge of signing with the San Francisco Giants.
Tomoyuki Sugano, a 31-year-old right-hander and two-time MVP in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization, is expected to make a decision regarding his major league future this week and the Giants are considered one of the favorites to land the starter.
The Giants have been reluctant to hand out multi-year contracts under president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, but Sugano could fill a pressing need for an organization that’s shy on top starting pitchers.
What makes Sugano an intriguing fit for the Giants? What should fans learn about a pitcher who could be a critical part of the team’s future if he signs in San Francisco? Here are five things to know about Sugano.
Sugano has an elite track record
As the most high-profile starter to be posted by a NBP team since Masahiro Tanaka joined the Yankees ahead of the 2014 season, Sugano has almost nothing left to accomplish in Japan. In eight seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, Sugano has been named to six All-Star teams, been honored as a two-time Central League MVP and also won two Eli Sawamura Awards, given annually to the top pitcher in the NPB.
Sugano won the pitching Triple Crown in the NPB in 2018 when he led the league in innings pitched, ERA and strikeouts. Despite an unspectacular 2019 season, he bounced back this summer to post a 1.97 ERA, one of the lowest marks of his career.
He’s always wanted to pitch for the Giants (well, sort of)
Sugano was considered the top pitching prospect in Japan entering the October, 2011 draft, but prior to being selected, he reportedly informed teams of his desire to join the Yomiuri Giants so he could pitch for his uncle, Tatsunori Hara, the club’s manager.
Despite his wishes, Sugano was chosen in the first round by the Hakkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, who later apologized for selecting the right-hander. Sugano ultimately chose to take a year off from baseball and re-enter the NPB draft in 2012, which allowed the Yomiuri Giants to select him with their first pick.
Sugano has spent the entirety of his professional career with the Yomiuri Giants, who are considered the equivalent of the New York Yankees in Japan.
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Pitching in a big market is a big deal to Sugano
According to a report from the New York Post, Sugano’s experience pitching for the Yomiuri Giants has shaped his interest in pitching for a major market team in the United States.
That could bode well for the Giants, particularly as multiple reports on Monday have indicated the New York Mets are no longer interested in signing Sugano. With the Mets potentially out of the running, the Giants, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays are considered the front-runners to land Sugano if he opts to pursue his dream of pitching in North America in lieu of returning to Yomiuri on a four-year deal that’s been reported to include three opt-outs.
With his posting window set to close on Thursday, Sugano is already in the United States and could be deep in the negotiation process with multiple teams.
Sugano pitches more like Johnny Cueto than Kevin Gausman
With Sugano’s array of pitches, there’s no perfect comparison to any Giants starter, but multiple scouting reports have indicated his success comes from his ability to keep hitters off balance instead of blowing them away with overpowering velocity.
With a low-90s fastball, a slider, curveball and splitter, Sugano seemingly has four reliable pitches he can throw in any count. A SportsInfoSolutions scouting report called Sugano’s slider his best strikeout pitch, but his greatest appeal to major league teams isn’t one particular offering.
The right-hander’s best asset is his ability to throw strikes as he’s routinely posted high strikeout-to-walk ratios. Combined with a knack for keeping the ball in the park (0.6 home runs per nine innings in his career), it’s easy to see why the Giants think he could have success at Oracle Park.
The Giants love the way Gausman can blow his high-90s fastball by hitters and rack up strikeouts, but Sugano appears to pitch more like Cueto, a veteran who relies on command, control and letting his defense help him out.
Sugano would instantly become a foundational piece
All it takes is a quick glance at the Giants’ current roster to know why the front office should be interested in signing at least one veteran starter to a multi-year contract.
With Gausman, Cueto and Anthony DeSclafani all set to become free agents at the end of the 2021 season, the Giants could once again be starting from scratch in their rotation if they fail to add a reliable veteran such as Sugano or Trevor Bauer under contract on a multi-year deal. With Sugano expected to sign for far less than Bauer, it seems the Giants would be wise to be the top bidder, particularly because the 2021 free agent class isn’t loaded with top starting pitching options.
The Giants don’t know what kind of a step forward Logan Webb might take this year, how Tyler Beede will rebound from Tommy John surgery or how quickly Sean Hjelle can move through the farm system to take over a spot in the rotation, so it’s relatively clear Sugano would become a foundational piece for future rosters. The organization is in desperate need of more starting pitching help, so signing Sugano would help alleviate some immediate and long-term concerns.
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