2023 NPB & other Asia-Pac leagues

Tokyo Sox

Baka Gaijin
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I'll use the two posts below as the jumping off point for the 2023 NPB (and other regional leagues) thread. The 2022 thread is here. Probably 90% of last year's thread was about Murakami and Roki Sasaki. If anyone missed it at the time, here is a good piece on the two of them from last fall: https://www.theringer.com/mlb/2022/9/15/23354090/munetaka-murakami-roki-sasaki-npb-baseball-japan

The biggest takeaway for me is that Japan’s improved depth really showed. They clearly don’t have as much talent as the US but there are a lot of intriguing guys. Guys like Sasaki and Murakami look like future MLB stars, if they make the move. Kondoh and Okamoto are 100% MLB talent. Yamada looks the part as well.

Ohtani gets all the press, as he should, but his greatness really overshadows just how many other good MLB-quality talent is playing in Japan. And I’m sure there are a ton of young guys who are 20/21 who would be exciting top 100-200 type prospects, if they were in A/AA ball over here.

It’s going to be really interesting to see how this tournament impacts others’ decisions to come over.
View: https://twitter.com/yakyucosmo/status/1638539079750135810?s=46&t=AUAqQFi9VlOmsRIpIx3QpA

Just as a reference for those interested in following NPB more closely, we saw many of these players in the WBC. Note #42 is the ex-Yankees pitcher, and #43 is the pinch runner (for Yoshida) who tore around the basepaths on Murakami’s walk-off double vs. Mexico.

Plenty of depth here compared to American MLB players.
First, a quick note about when NPB guys are "eligible" to move to MLB: the answer is anytime at all. If NPB clubs agree to post them, they can go at anytime. The only catch is that if the player is under 25 and hasn't played in NPB for at least 6 years, then they are subject to MLB's international bonus pool restrictions and can only sign relatively small deals. So if the money is the driving factor, a given player will probably wait until he's 25. If testing themselves at the highest level is the primary motivator, any of these guys can push their NPB team to post them. Of course the team is not required to oblige, and I think there was some bad blood between Senga & the Softbank Hawks by the end, as Senga wanted to move a few years ago.

So...who will be the next guys to go? I certainly agree with BSF that generally speaking the depth of the talent here is as good as it's ever been. Specific to a couple of players he mentioned though, I don't think Yamada or Okamoto are likely. Yamada is past his prime and even when he was posting four seasons of 30/30, his defense probably wasn't MLB caliber, and I don't think the pop was legit MLB power either. I love the guy and hope he can just put together another solid few seasons here. Okamoto could go - he's 4 years younger and has more power. He could well be a guy who wasn't really on MLB scouts' radars pre-WBC but may be now. I think he profiles more like a righty Tsutsugo though, and am not sure how he'd do. Kondoh is an amazing OBP guy - a career .307/.413 hitter - but I think is unlikely to move now, aged 29 and having just signed with the Hawks after 11 seasons for Nippon Ham. But the point is I agree, the talent here isn't all AAAA level -- there are many guys who are capable of successful MLB careers. I don't think it's controversial to say that NPB is the second-best professional league in the world, talent-wise.

The ones that seem likely in the next few years are:
- Yoshinobu Yamamoto, winner of the last two Sawamura Awards. As good as Roki has been, Yamamoto is the most polished pitcher in Japan right now. He'll be 25 in August and in six seasons has pitched to a 1.95 ERA/0.947 WHIP in 733 IP (including 190+ IP each of the last two years). His revamped delivery took a lot of people by surprise at camp ahead of the WBC last month, but it seems to be working for him so far. After his Orix Buffaloes teammate Masataka Yoshida went this year, the default assumption seems to be that YY will go for next year. MLB ETA 2024.

- Munetaka Murakami. Not sure what else I can say about my local Tokyo Yakult Swallows third baseman. He signed a 3/14-ish deal (JPY 600m per year) at the end of the '22 season which apparently included an agreement to be posted at the end of the contract, ie ahead of the 2026 MLB season. If he puts up #'s remotely like he did last season though, at some point those will start to feel wasted here. I'm going to go out on a limb and say he asks to go earlier: MLB ETA 2025.

- Roki Sasaki. By now everyone who bothers reading this thread will have seen a bit of Roki. He just turned 21 at the end of last year, so while people look at his age and say "2027 seems most likely," I think that similar to Murakami he has very little left to prove here. I just don't know what the point of staying here until 2027 would be for a pitcher of his caliber, and if any of Ohtani's Ohtaniness rubbed off on him during the WBC, I think he'll end up asking to post sooner. MLB ETA 2025. Maybe 2026 if Chiba Lotte are jerks about it.

I'll leave it there for now. I'm hopeful that the success of the WBC encourages more people to watch other leagues around the world when they can - whether it's NPB, KBO, ABL, Honkbal Hoofdklasse, or the Czech Baseball Extraliga, whatever. For NPB, Yakyu Cosmo (the author of the tweet @Granite Sox posted) is one of the best places to start if you want more yakyuu in your life. A recommended follow.
 

Awesome Fossum

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I'm always curious about Carter Stewart, the American pitcher who signed a six-year deal with the
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks rather than sign with the Braves or go to college.

Looks like he did not play in the majors last year after having a cup of coffee with the Hawks in 2021. He was fantastic in the Puerto Rico Winter League this winter. He'll be entering his age 23 season.

https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=stewar004car
 

Granite Sox

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I traveled to Japan for business on a quarterly basis from 2016-2019. I've always loved baseball, and experiencing it in Japan has been fantastic. Thanks @Tokyo Sox for starting this thread. For those who like to follow, I'll just paste a few links of ways to see highlights. There's a twitter account I follow that sends highlights from the Pacific League, but I don't have a similar link for the Central League, so I don't get to see highlights as easily on Twitter from those teams.

The companies I worked for have headquarters in Tokyo and Kobe. As a result, I've become a Hanshin Tigers fan (one of two teams in Osaka (next to Kobe) along with Orix). My Japanese friends also told me that Tigers fans "demonstrate unique enthusiasm" (haha) that is similar in some ways to the Red Sox so it was a natural connection. The Tigers play at Koshien Stadium, which is also famous for hosting the historic Koshien high school tournament, a tournament that made a legend out of Daisuke Matsuzaka among many others. I've been to games at Koshien as well as the Tokyo Dome (home of the Yomiuri Giants).

Here are some NPB Twitter links that I follow, just for those who may be interested:
@yakyucosmo
@PacificleagueTV
@ntv_baseball
@NPB_Reddit
@npbcardguy
@NPBinENG
@JapanBall
@npbbaseball
@JCoskrey - Jason Coskrey
@GibsonJ50635298 - John Gibson
@JballAllen - Jim Allen
@JBWPodcast - podcast with Gibson and Allen... it's pretty good!
@thehanshintiger
@TigersDreamlink
@theorixbuffalo
@TokyoGiants
@swallowspr
@baystarsEN
@infieldflygrl
@npbcardguy
@GraveyardBall - focus on (Saitama) Seibu Lions
@NPBGaijin - focus on (Fukuoka) SoftBank Hawks

YouTube:
@PacificLeagueTVoffical
@hanshintigers_official
@YakyuCosmopolitan


Since the games are at night in Japan, I enjoy watching live highlights on Twitter early in the morning with a cup of coffee.
 

Jake Peavy's Demons

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@SeoulSoxFan, @Tokyo Sox, anyone else:

What's the noise over in Asia for Korean player Jung Hoo Lee?

I saw the 24YO CF went 6/14, 4 R, 2BB, 1K in the WBC, with averages of .429/.500/.571/1.071

MLB had this article earlier this month on him prior to the WBC: https://www.mlb.com/news/jung-hoo-lee-next-korean-superstar-mlb

In the above article, of note: 'Lee hit .349/.421/.575 with 23 home runs last season, and he struck out just 32 times in 627 plate appearances.'

And it seems that he will be expect to be posted after this season: https://www.mlb.com/news/jung-hoo-lee-expresses-desire-to-come-to-mlb-in-2024

Hadn't heard much about him or saw him being discussed here yet, unless I missed some posts in the WBC thread.
 
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Tokyo Sox

Baka Gaijin
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@SeoulSoxFan, @Tokyo Sox, anyone else:

What's the noise over in Asia for Korean player Jung Hoo Lee?

I saw the 24YO CF went 6/14, 4 R, 2BB, 1K in the WBC, with averages of .347/.432/.434/.866

MLB had this article earlier this month on him prior to the WBC: https://www.mlb.com/news/jung-hoo-lee-next-korean-superstar-mlb

In the above article, of note: 'Lee hit .349/.421/.575 with 23 home runs last season, and he struck out just 32 times in 627 plate appearances.'

And it seems that he will be expect to be posted after this season: https://www.mlb.com/news/jung-hoo-lee-expresses-desire-to-come-to-mlb-in-2024

Hadn't heard much about him or saw him being discussed here yet, unless I missed some posts in the WBC thread.
Yep, he'll be going to MLB next year. I wouldn't normally comment on a KBO player because I just don't know them, but there was some discussion of him here during the WBC. It sounds like he's capable of being an MLB starter for many teams but maybe a 4th OF on others. Nice that he's still pretty young though. It's hard to know how KBO #'s will translate because there's an even smaller sample size of guys making that move.
 

Tokyo Sox

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I think the WBC pitchers were all given a bit of extra time to get back on their normal schedules, so most of them did not pitch Opening Day here. As a result Roki Sasaki has just made his first start of the season, and it was a good one:

View: https://twitter.com/yakyucosmo/status/1643865262146600960?s=20


Roki Sasaki’s final line in his first start of 2023:

6.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11 K

Sat around 99 mph and topped out at 102
Tonight's games will feature Roki's fellow WBC pitchers Hiroto Takahashi starting for Chunichi, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto starting for Orix.
 

Tokyo Sox

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I went to Tigers/Giants at the Tokyo Dome last night which of course featured a sac bunt in the first inning, so this completely cracked me up when I saw it later in the evening:
View: https://twitter.com/infieldflygrl/status/1646364296857948160?s=20


Caption: there is nothing on earth more japanese than this graphic
picture:
63449

Japanese teams love to commemorate various player milestones and put them on t-shirts, towels, whatever. I think I bought a t-shirt when Murakami hit 5 HR in a row last year. But this one I did not see coming.
 

Tokyo Sox

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In other news -- sign up for Pacific League TV, and set your alarms -- tonight at 6pm (5am ET) is the first ever head to head matchup of Roki Sasaki vs Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The two best pitchers in the country, both likely future MLBers. Should be pretty epic.
 

Tokyo Sox

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Granite Sox

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Tokyo Sox

Baka Gaijin
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That is the silver-liningest way to look at that game. He threw 4 scoreless but imploded in the 5th and finished with 7 ER in 4.2 IP, but congrats to him on the milestone. He looked good in his first two starts of the year but this one saw his ERA jump from 1.02 to 3.63. The Eagles somehow kept chipping away late though and came back to win the game.

Roki was also on the hill tonight for his 3rd start of the year, this time vs the 1st place SoftBank Hawks. He went 7 shutout innings, 8 K. He has yet to allow a run and through 3 starts he's gone 20 IP, 5 H, 3 BB, 30 K, 0 ER.
 

Tokyo Sox

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I know he's got his own thread but since he's just another guy in the league now: Trevor Bauer made his 2nd start of the season tonight for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, and got rocked.

His first start vs Hiroshima on May 3rd was very good, 7 IP, 9 K, 1 ER. But tonight he got knocked around early and often, giving up 11 hits including 3 HR, allowing 6 ER. After two starts he's 1-1 with a 4.85 ERA and 17 K in 13 IP. 23yo Samurai Japan pitcher Shosei Togo threw a 143 pitch complete game for the Giants for the W.
 

Tokyo Sox

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It's wild to me that Japanese baseball hasn't modernized pitcher usage.
It's really crazy, and frustrating. It is mitigated somewhat by the fact that they only throw once a week, but it still sometimes goes way overboard.

There are 12 teams here so 6 games a night when there's a full slate as there was tonight. 3 of 6 games featured a complete game by the winning pitcher. The other two were CGSO's by Tomohisa Ohzeki of the Hawks (125 pitches) and Hiroya Miyagi of the Buffaloes (109 pitches, not bad). All 12 SPs tonight went at least 6 IP and threw at least 95 pitches.

That and the incessant bunting are the two most frustrating parts of the game here.
 

BigSoxFan

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It's really crazy, and frustrating. It is mitigated somewhat by the fact that they only throw once a week, but it still sometimes goes way overboard.

There are 12 teams here so 6 games a night when there's a full slate as there was tonight. 3 of 6 games featured a complete game by the winning pitcher. The other two were CGSO's by Tomohisa Ohzeki of the Hawks (125 pitches) and Hiroya Miyagi of the Buffaloes (109 pitches, not bad). All 12 SPs tonight went at least 6 IP and threw at least 95 pitches.

That and the incessant bunting are the two most frustrating parts of the game here.
Roki isn’t being allowed to throw 120+ regularly, right? They better not ruin that arm.
 

Tokyo Sox

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Roki isn’t being allowed to throw 120+ regularly, right? They better not ruin that arm.
No actually, good call. In his 5 starts so far his high is 106 and he's been under 90 three times, though in his most recent start I think he left early because of a blister (and is expected to miss his start this week while still dealing with it.)

Not sure if this will format properly but the 5th column is IP and the 6th is # of pitches for Roki this year:

edit: ugh, that did definitely not format properly. If you go here and scroll down to 最近6試合の成績 you can see his line scores for each start this season.
 
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Tokyo Sox

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Bauer got lit up again tonight. He K'd the first guy of the game, then gave up 3 straight doubles, followed by a HR for a 4-run 1st. He gave up 3 more in the 2nd on a walk and a few singles, and his night was done. After 3 starts he's got a 8.40 ERA in 15 IP.

DeNA (pronounced DNA) has gotten 5 scoreless from their relievers though, and Hiroshima leads 7-3 in the 8th.
 

Tokyo Sox

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You may know this since it's from a "baseball history" account, but that catch was in 2010. Never a bad time to post it though, since it's obviously completely nuts.

In more current news, the Swallows still stink. NPB is in the midst of interleague now, so they got to beat up on the dregs of the PL for a while, going 5-3 vs the bottom three Pacific League teams. @StupendousMan and I were lucky enough to catch one of those W's vs Rakuten at Jingu a couple weekends ago, which was great, but there haven't been many bright spots otherwise. They're at 6-6 overall in interleague, and will probably drop under .500 tonight vs Softbank.

Bauer, whose own thread was recently bumped for Bauery reasons, starts tonight for Yokohama. He's had 3 QS since getting called back up from the farm, 6, 8, 7 IP with 2 ER each time. ERA down to 4.75 headed into tonight's game vs Nippon Ham.

In "MLB radar" player news, Yoshinobu Yamamoto is quietly still the class of the NPB, despite his weird revamped delivery that had people scratching their heads in the spring. Through 9 starts, his line is 62.1 IP, 1.59 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 68:11 K:BB.
 

Awesome Fossum

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Baseball is so weird. Carter Stewart goes to Japan to accelerate his professional career while Rintaro Sasaki comes to America to accelerate his professional career.
 

simplicio

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Can Japanese kids not be IFAs, or is it just a cultural barrier that keeps that from happening?
 

Tokyo Sox

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Can Japanese kids not be IFAs, or is it just a cultural barrier that keeps that from happening?
Cultural barrier mostly, with some degree of a gentlemen's agreement that MLB teams won't come trying to systematically raid the country's amateur ranks.
 

Tokyo Sox

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The Hanshin Tigers are three outs from winning their first Japan Series since 1985, up 7-0 in Game 7 as we head to the bottom of the 9th.

For anyone who doesn't know, their fans are the best in the country and will absolutely go bananas. Prepare for some great video footage.
 

Tokyo Sox

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Baseball is so weird. Carter Stewart goes to Japan to accelerate his professional career while Rintaro Sasaki comes to America to accelerate his professional career.
On the other hand, I believe what you are suggesting is exactly what Rintaro Sasaki is doing (https://www.espn.co.uk/mlb/story/_/id/38625565/japanese-hs-phenom-rintaro-sasaki-skips-npb-play-ncaa-baseball). If someone contradicts what I say - listen to them instead - but I think this article answers it. Hope that helps.
As I just posted in the Ohtani thread, I kinda expect more Japanese star HS kids to start following Rintaro Sasaki's (no relation) lead and coming over for college ball in the US, bypassing the NPB entirely.
These quotes are pulled from a few different threads so I wasn't sure where to put this but Rintaro's move is now official -- he's committed to Stanford.

https://x.com/stanfordbsb/status/1757585450443886637?s=46&t=xXa7NDH1fxja4LQsGlS2Ow

https://x.com/shawn_spradling/status/1757603347685638380?s=46&t=xXa7NDH1fxja4LQsGlS2Ow

edit: still not sure how to embed the xitters