The Giants' scouts in Japan have been watching Shun Yamaguchi for years. It turns out the right-hander had his eye on the organization, too, or at least on one of its biggest stars.
During a Zoom call with reporters on Monday morning, Yamaguchi, signed last week as a non-roster invitee, said he used to watch videos of Tim Lincecum when he was pitching in Japan and thinks there are some similarities in their style. Lincecum famously baffled hitters with his changeup and Yamaguchi relies heavily on a splitter with similar action.
"He's definitely a special pitcher in my eyes," Yamaguchi said of Lincecum. "Moving forward, I would like to study a little bit more about him."
He should have plenty of opportunities this spring. Most of that generation of players and coaches has moved on, but Yamaguchi will be working this spring with Lincecum's old catcher, Buster Posey. He's vying to make the team after a disappointing first year in MLB that left him wanting a second shot.
Yamaguchi allowed 23 runs in 25 1/3 innings out of the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen last year and was released shortly after he landed in Florida for his second spring training. After 14 seasons pitching professionally in Japan, he said his first season in the big leagues taught him he needed to get stronger over the offseason. He also said he'll benefit from being more comfortable this spring.
"Last year I had no idea which way is right or left," he said through interpreter Yuto Sakurai. "The training methods, I didn't know about. For this year, after going over last season with the Blue Jays, I have a better understanding of how to go about my days. I'm trying to do my best here and I would like to see how much I can do in the major leagues."
Yamaguchi had an option to go back to Japan after being released from his two-year deal with the Blue Jays but said he has heard good things about the Giants, referring to them as a "first-class organization." The Giants have a full rotation right now but will look at the 33-year-old in that role and also could include him in their bullpen. Yamaguchi, a star in Japan, said he's eager to prove he can thrive in the United States.
"Last year I wasn't satisfied with my result," he said. "I want to challenge myself once again and during the offseason I was preparing myself intensely to perform better this year."