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24 for ’24: How will Cubs’ Shota Imanaga handle the adjustment to MLB?

1 month agoTony Andracki

As the Cubs embark on a new campaign with a new manager (Craig Counsell) at the helm, we answer 24 of the most pressing questions for the 2024 season.

MESA, Ariz. — The key to Shota Imanaga’s adjustment from Japan to baseball in the U.S. may lie in his nickname.

“The Throwing Philosopher” is talented and has a deep repertoire of pitches to throw at hitters but it’s his cerebral nature that may end up being the difference in adapting to Major League Baseball.

Already this spring, manager Craig Counsell has been impressed with Imanaga’s ability to be flexible.

“He’s gonna be a quick adapter,” the Cubs manager said. “He’s gonna be able to take feedback in-game and quickly adjust.”

In his first Cactus League start on Saturday, Imanaga was called for a pitch clock violation at the very beginning of the game, leading to an automatic ball. He called it a valuable learning experience and Counsell is glad those kinds of mistakes happen in Spring Training before the games start to matter.

Imanaga was aware of the pitch clock the rest of the time and after the game, admitted he has room to grow and adapt under the new rules.

“I would like to understand the pitch clock a little bit better,” Imanaga said through translator Edwin Stanberry. “Today was a great learning experience that they called the violation. I want to start using it to my own advantage.”

One start in and Imanaga is already trying to utilize the rules in his favor to help get hitters out.

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The 30-year-old southpaw had a stellar 2023 season in Japan, going 7-5 with a 2.66 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 188 strikeouts in 148 innings.

FanGraphs and ZiPS project him for a 3.55 ERA in his first year with the Cubs to go along with 146 strikeouts in 137 innings.

That would certainly be a solid debut season and would provide an impact in the Cubs rotation.

There’s a chance for an even higher ceiling, too. Teams around baseball have found ways to help ease the adjustment for foreign players in recent seasons.

The Mets found success at this last season. Kodai Senga, also pitching at age 30 in his debut year coming from Japan, earned Cy Young votes and made the All-Star team. He was 12-7 with a 2.98 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 166.1 innings.

Senga and Imanaga are different pitchers, obviously, but Senga’s immediate success could portend good things for Imanaga’s debut season in America.

The old adage in baseball is hitters struggle when they face pitchers they haven’t seen before and Imanaga will have that advantage throughout the season. Especially with a schedule that features fewer games against the division, it won’t be often where hitters go into a game with previous firsthand experience against Imanaga.

He profiles as a fly ball pitcher who can miss bats, which is a good change of pace for a Cubs rotation that relies more on groundballs than strikeouts.

The biggest adjustment for Imanaga might be in adjusting to the 5-day schedule here. In Japan, there is more off time built into the season and pitchers are typically on a 6-day routine.

His main goal after Saturday’s outing was to work on recovery between starts, building conditioning so he can adapt to the 5-day routine.

Imanaga is next slated to pitch on Friday and Counsell has said the Cubs are not going to make a special schedule for Imanaga, instead planning their rotation around what is best for the team.

The Cubs open the 2024 campaign in Texas from March 28-31. It’s very possible Imanaga makes his regular season debut in one of the final 2 games of that series.

24 for ’24 series

What are the Cubs expecting from Kyle Hendricks in 2024 and beyond?
What role will Drew Smyly fill on the 2024 Cubs?
How will Jameson Taillon fare in Year 2 with Cubs?
How will Shota Imanaga handle the adjustment to MLB?
Who will DH for the Cubs?
Who is the Cubs’ fifth starter?
Will defense once again be the Cubs’ strength?
Can Seiya Suzuki pick up where he left off? 
What are the Cubs’ long-term plans at first base?
Have the Cubs done enough to address their left-handed hitting?
Will Justin Steele replicate his stellar 2023 season?

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