A lot of offseason talk has surrounded Japanese players that are coming or will come over from Nippon Professional Baseball, but shorter shrift is usually given to the MLB players who decide to move in the opposite direction. Just a few days ago, on Jan. 12, it was reported that pitcher Drew VerHagen is headed to Shohei Ohtani's former NPB team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, for the second time in his career, to little fanfare.
MLB is obviously the highest level baseball players can compete at, but the players who do go over to Japan or Korea get a unique opportunity to play with some future stars. Adam Jones, a five-time All-Star, MVP votes recipient, and four-time Gold Glover in MLB left the United States in 2020 to play for the Orix Buffaloes for two seasons before retiring. One of his teammates during his short stint was now-Dodger Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
Jones appeared on the Dodger Talk podcast to talk about his time playing with Yamamoto, and he dropped a ton of interesting tidbits that should make fans even more excited about seeing Yamamoto pitch for the Dodgers in 2024.
Former Yoshinobu Yamamoto teammate, MLB All-Star Adam Jones gives Dodgers fans awesome 2024 preview
Getting Yamamoto is undoubtedly a win for the Dodgers, but it's also natural to feel some trepidation ahead of his first start in MLB. There are tangible differences between MLB and NPB, starting with the baseball itself. Baseballs in MLB and bigger and heavier, and with the substance crackdowns of the past few years, sticky substances aren't going to fly as easily in MLB. Jones' comments about Yamamoto should ease some worries, though, especially in this resounding endorsement: "Get him two runs and we're going to win this game."
Jones cited the strength of the Japanese players that Yamamoto has looked to as mentors in his transition to American baseball — Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, and Kenta Maeda, all veterans in MLB. On Yamamoto's starts for the Buffaloes, Jones said, "Every start, it was the same. It was at least 7 2/3, and he was just shoving. [...] When he's in the game, he's the best pitcher."
We'll likely see Yamamoto pitch for the first time as a major leaguer during the two-game Seoul Series in South Korea against the Padres, beginning ahead of the major league schedule on March 20th. If Jones and the rest of those willing to testify in support of Yamamoto's brilliance are to be believed, we'll be watching something special.