2023 World Baseball Classic: Four international prospects to watch, including NPB MVP Yoshinobu Yamamoto
The 2023 Baseball World Cup, the first since 2017, kicks off Tuesday, March 7th. For many American viewers, the WBC will serve as an introduction to top talent from other leagues, including Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and South Korea’s Korea Baseball. Organization. So the natural answer is to wonder if and when some of these players will make it to Major League Baseball, as others have done over the years.
Of course, not everyone wants to play MLB. However, several top international talent have expressed interest in making the leap someday, and CBS Sports felt it would be a good opportunity to highlight some players to watch for the duration of the WBC and in the coming years. With that in mind, below you’ll find background information, scout notes and estimates of the arrival of four particularly intriguing young players.
1. Yoshinobu Yamamoto, RHP, Japan (Orix Buffaloes)
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Unfair Ball… and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/8Lqcl0lTxx
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 4, 2021
What is his deal? Yamamoto is arguably the best pitcher in professional Nippon baseball. Last season, he won the Pacific League Most Valuable Player title and the Eiji Sawamura (think: Sai Young) award after posting a 1.68 ERA and a 4.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Yamamoto is a four-time All-Star, three-time ERA Champion, and two-time Triple Crown Champion. In his career, he has a 1.84 ERA and a 4.31 strikeout ratio to nearly 800 innings walks.
How would his game go? The success of Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda and many others has proven that NPB pitchers can handle themselves in MLB. Yamamoto was perfect in terms of pitch quality. He is proficient with a mid-90s fastball with a carry, as well as a swing-and-miss splitter and a high-spin spin ball. He’ll have to prove that his stuff, especially his splitter, plays equally well in US baseball, but again, there’s enough precedent here to be optimistic about his chances. Another issue with him is his size, as he is listed as 5’10” with a slight build. However, these days, teams seem to be more favorably disposed towards shorter pitchers, thanks to the increased popularity of the vertical approach angle concept and lower expectations for starting lineup workload. Yamamoto will likely be seen as start number 2 if and when he comes.
When can he join MLB? Earlier this month, the New York Post reported that Yamamoto could be sent to MLB for consideration after the 2023 season. By this point, Yamamoto would have succeeded in passing the required MLB thresholds (25 years, six years of service in a recognized professional league) to no longer be considered an amateur international free agent.
2. Rocky Sasaki, RHP, Japan (Chiba Lotte Marines)
Evil Splitters Rocky Sasaki. 🤢 [20 years old] pic.twitter.com/ZxCinCnZAz
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 27, 2022
What is his deal? Sasaki, who just celebrated his 21st birthday in November, is the youngest of the four players featured here. Last April, he made world headlines after a perfect 19 strikeout game. Sasaki finished the season with a 2.02 ERA and a 7.52 strike-out-to-walk ratio, the latter fueled by an amazing 35 percent strikeout percentage. By comparison, Yamamoto hit just over 27 percent of the batters he faced last season.
How would his game go? As noted in Yamamoto’s capsule, NPB pitchers have come in and left their mark on history. Sasaki definitely has the means to do it himself someday. He has a phenomenal fastball that is above the 90s and shows top-notch vertical life. Sasaki’s other popular offering is the splitter/fork, although he also has a couple of balls to break. Again, he will likely earn the No. 2 starting prediction, but that’s only because he’s too young to have a chance to establish himself as a solid workhorse. (Many evaluators are reluctant to call someone an “ace” until they have proven themselves at a high level for several years.)
When can he join MLB? Sasaki is the farthest out of the four players on this list. He won’t break any of the aforementioned MLB thresholds before the end of the 2026 campaign, suggesting 2027 would be his earliest arrival.
3. Munetaka Murakami, 3B, Japan (Yakult Swallows)
56 home runs for Munetaka Murakami! pic.twitter.com/eqMFOPicGD
— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) October 3, 2022
What is his deal? Murakami boosted his global profile significantly in 2022 by hitting 56 home rings and breaking Sadaharu Oh’s single-season record for a Japanese-born player. Overall, he hit .282/.402/.568 over five seasons with 177 home runs and 500 hits. Last year, he even saw his go-to-strike ratio approach 1.0 (118 vs. 128).
How would his game go? Sports Info Solutions tweeted in August that Murakami has an average exit speed of 91 mph and an average launch angle of 13.6 degrees.. In other words, Murakami hits hard and accurately. It’s understandably hard to make a direct comparison to any MLB hitter, but Freddie Freeman and Corey Seeger had similar scores. In the past two seasons, Murakami has been knocked out about 20 percent of the time – a figure likely to increase if and when he crosses the Pacific – and raters are unsure if he will stay in third place for a long time or if he will need to pass. across the diamond to first base. The positive here is the mid-level strength with strength and basic skills. This will make him attractive to MLB teams, regardless of his position.
When can he join MLB? Murakami signed a three-year deal with the Swallows back in December. He is expected to be sent after this contract is finalized, meaning he will be in line to make his MLB debut in 2026.
4. Jung Hu Lee, CF, Korea (Kiwoom Heroes)
RF Jung-hoo Lee with a double after Yamamoto’s erroneous serve. Lee, 22, has a career batting average of .337 and .403 over 5 years in the KBO with more walks than strikeouts and could move to MLB in 2024. pic.twitter.com/HicImUsqYR
— Kyle Kishimoto (@kylemoto10) August 4, 2021
What is his deal? Lee, nicknamed “Grandson of the Wind” after his father, is the current holder of the Korean Baseball Organization’s Most Valuable Player award. He compiled a career .342/.407/.495 slash line with 59 home runs, 63 stolen bases and 53 more walks than strikeouts while playing for the same club that San Diego Padres infielder Ha-Sung Kim worked for.
How would his game go? The MLB front offices are always skeptical about how KBO hitters will fight top pitchers. (KBO is considered the third best league in the world after MLB and NPB.) Lee is in fourth place because he is unlikely to escape this test. However, his supporters speculate that he will become the starting center fielder in MLB. Lee hit more home runs last season (23) than in the previous two years combined (22), but his above-average contact hits are the safest component of his southpaw. He is considered a good runner and defender, and this combination should give him a wider place at the plate than the average bear. It may take some time for Lee to adjust to MLB (Kim, for example, raised his OPS scores by 86 as a sophomore in the US), so his secondary value should have kept him afloat during the acclimatization period.
When can he join MLB? In January, The Heroes announced that they would send Lee to the posting system after the 2023 season.. Barring an injury or some other unexpected development, he will make his MLB debut in 2024.