Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate CHGO Sports Community!

Shota Imanaga 'as advertised' but still adjusting to start Cubs camp

Ryan Herrera Avatar
February 15, 2024

MESA, Ariz. — It’s not every day a group of fans is waiting for one single player just outside the Cubs’ spring training complex. It’s not every day that the sidewalk next to the main bullpen mounds is almost full with cameras and media members.

But that’s been the scene around Shota Imanaga since spring training began. Everything the former Nippon Professional Baseball star is doing is being watched closely as he begins his Major League Baseball career with the Cubs.

But even with all the attention on the 30-year-old southpaw at the moment, he’s just focusing on getting himself ready to perform for his new ballclub.

“As a rookie, there’s been maybe a little more attention,” Imanaga said through interpreter Shingo Murata. “But whether there’s attention or there’s not that much attention, what I have to do doesn’t change, so it has not really had much impact on me.”

When pitchers and catchers officially reported to spring training Wednesday, Imanaga was scheduled to throw his first official bullpen.

Again, the area was full of onlookers trying to catch a glimpse. And if you trust Yan Gomes and Tommy Hottovy’s feedback, Imanaga didn’t disappoint.

“His heater is definitely, as of right now, as advertised,” said Gomes, who caught Imanaga’s bullpen Wednesday. “It definitely plays up a little bit.”

“Just seeing his stuff, I think it’s come as advertised,” said Hottovy, the Cubs’ pitching coach who watched Imanaga’s entire session. “It’s a really unique fastball. Just trying to talk through ways we think he can continue to use it in effective ways. And then just seeing the rest of the repertoire. He’s got a complete repertoire. He’s a really complete package of a pitcher.”

Gomes told Hottovy afterward that Imanaga’s unique fastball caught him a bit off guard. Gomes would squeeze his mitt where he thought the ball would end up, but he wasn’t catching it cleanly.

“[Gomes was] like, ‘Man, it does get on you. It gets there a little quicker than you assume,'” Hottovy said. “So I think from a data perspective you kind of see that, but then to hear that from the catcher, to obviously see that from the hitters I think will be really good feedback for him.”

At least from a catching standpoint, the Cubs’ backstops will have to adjust a bit to Imanaga’s stuff. At the same time, he’s going have to make some adjustments of his own.

For one, he’s using a slightly different ball in MLB than he used in NPB. Outside of the fastball, he also features a splitter, which he doesn’t feel will be a tough transition with the new ball. However, his breaking pitches, namely a curveball and slider, are what he said will probably take a larger adjustment.

Then there’s the fact that he’ll be pitching more often than before. Major league teams generally use five-man rotations, and the Cubs haven’t given any indication they’ll move away from that, so he’ll be pitching with fewer days off. That’s another adjustment he knows he’ll have to make — but maybe that’s where his new friends can help.

“Obviously, the routine between pitching is different,” Imanaga said. “In Japan, you do have more opportunities to just throw between starts, but here, there’s gonna be less time to do so. Having the courage to not throw it’s gonna be some kind of an adjustment.

“That’s something I’ve been thinking about, but here we have Kyle Hendricks, Justin Steele, guys who have been pitching on four-days rest. So, I’m gonna seek their advice and see how they go about their routines.”

The off-the-field transition will be important, too.

Imanaga is of course aware he’s in a different country with a different culture and a different environment. He’s sought advice from other Japanese players in the major leagues, including new teammate Seiya Suzuki, who made the same transition two years ago when he signed with the Cubs.

Despite the differences, he’s allowed his personality to show through. He hasn’t shied away from being himself, even as he begins a career in a new place.

It began at his introductory press conference last month, when he started by saying some of the lyrics from “Go Cubs Go” and introducing himself in English. It’s continued in Arizona, and his new coaches and teammates have taken notice.

“He got here about a week early, so we’ve had some time to kind of get to know each other over that period and see him work,” Hottovy said. “First of all, just what a great personality. He has just a good way about him, very personable and really working hard to learn a lot of English with some practice and really takes pride in that. So, that part’s been really fun.”

“Shota’s awesome, man,” Hendricks said. “I’m super impressed with his English, to be honest with you. I’ve seen him by himself, his translator nowhere close to him, and had conversations with him. He understands what we’re asking. And he’s locked in, dialed in, so obviously a super smart guy. Just a really good personality, always smiling and happy.”

“He’s really I think fit in pretty quickly with his personality,” Nico Hoerner said. “He’s outgoing, he’s funny. He’s obviously very on top of his work but has a good sense of humor, too. Just kind of all you can ask for from a teammate.”

The rest of the transition period won’t be easy. It’s not a surprise if a Japanese player faces some struggles when making the jump to MLB.

But Imanaga will work to get through that phase, because he knows he needs to be ready to help his new team win.

“The No. 1 thing for me is, to become a member of the Cubs, I need to prove myself on the field,” Imanaga said. “So, I’ve been preparing to be able to put the best performance out on the field.”

Get Our Best Cubs Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Chicago Cubs fan with Ryan Herrera's Cubs Newsletter!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?