After watching Masahiro Tanaka sign a massive seven-year, $155 million deal this offseason with the New York Yankees, there was massive speculation as to how the 25-year old will do once the MLB regular season opens. Based on Tanaka’s first appearance against the Philadelphia Phillies today, there is genuine reason to believe that he will be an ace right from the get-go.
Tanaka came into the game against the Phillies at the beginning of the fifth inning, and he showed everything that one expects of a great starting pitcher. The Japanese pitcher was certainly not starstruck by the situation, and he went after each and every batter he faced with venom, ultimately ending up with a stat line of two innings pitched, two hits allowed, three strikeouts and no walks.
The 25-year-old was aggressive with his fastball, using it to get ahead of opposing batters and letting his impressive off-speed pitches put them away. The fastball may have only sat at 91-93 mph, but the ability to locate and move the eye level of the batter was encouraging factor.
Then there was his split-finger FB. On Saturday afternoon, the pitch was very impressive in the few times that the 25 year old utilized it, sitting at 87-88 mph and simply falling off the table. The Phillies simply could not handle the offering, and Ben Revere looked especially futile as he struck out on a pitch that went from his chest to ankles in an instant.
In terms of other off-speed pitches, Tanaka has plenty to offer, and there is much to be encouraged about. Whether it’s the slow and looping curveball that sat at 70 mph against the Phillies, a slider that was anywhere between 83-86 or two-seam fastball at 88-91, the guy has a lot to offer. In fact, some might say that the 25-year-old has an arsenal that may actually be too big.
What makes Tanaka such an intriguing player moving forward is that he has six pitches that genuinely can be utilized in an-at bat, and this will prove to keep batters guessing at all times. Additionally, his ability to use the same arm speed and motion for every offering indicates that batters will not be able to pick up what’s coming.
It’s difficult to genuinely predict what a pitcher is going to do for the entirety of a 162-game season based on one relatively meaningless Spring Training game, but if the 25-year-old is able to handle the rigorous travel and questions from the New York media market, he will certainly develop into a 20-win, All-Star pitcher very quickly.