It’s an annual question as the postseason nears its close and free agency approaches: any big-time international players potentially coming over to the States this year? And although not every hot pursuit yields a player who breaks out (two of the most recent – Shogo Akiyama and Ha Seong Kim – made disappointing transitions), hey, the same is true for traditional free agency. So it’s all just about context.
This year, one of the biggest questions has been about Hiroshima outfielder Seiya Suzuki, long one of the best bats in the NPB, and at an age (27) where a transition to MLB would be a really compelling story. Here’s how Jeff Passan put it recently:
Seiya Suzuki, OF, Hiroshima Toyo Carp, 27: For the past six seasons, Suzuki has been among the most productive players in Nippon Professional Baseball, hitting .300 every year, logging on-base averages well above 40% and hitting at least 25 home runs. This season has been a classic Suzuki year: .318/.434/.617, with a stellar right-field glove. While Suzuki wears the same No. 51 as future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, they’re not related. It’s not a certainty Suzuki gets posted, but if he does, he will be the best player to come from Japan since Shohei Ohtani – and the best outfielder since Hideki Matsui debuted in 2003.
Again, Suzuki being the best NPB player to come over since Ohtani, and the best outfielder since Matsui, doesn’t mean that he will be THAT GOOD in Major League Baseball. We have only the context we have, and that is that he’s been extremely good in Japan, and he is thought by many to project well in the transition. Suzuki, a righty bat, hits for power without alarming strikeout rates, takes a ton of walks, has good athleticism.
So if he does come over, it’s going to be a big-time pursuit. Speaking of which …
It’s now pretty clear it’s going to happen:
Reports about Seiya Suzuki being officially posted for the MLB this offseason.
Official announcement is due to be made once the season is completed. The team is reportedly already in the process of getting the necessary paperwork for approval.
— Tom Mussa v2 (@tom_mussa_v2) October 22, 2021
The Royals, Rays, Phillies, Mariners, Rangers, and Blue Jays are among the named teams already interested, but the translation suggests that is far from a complete list.
I would submit that the Cubs make as much sense as any team. They can afford to take a bigger risk on a guy like Suzuki right now, because if he doesn’t immediately pop, it’s not like he alone crushes their playoff hopes. In other words, whereas teams that are trying to make an aggressive push for 2022 might not want to risk dedicating an outfield spot to a guy transitioning to the States, the Cubs would be in a position to take that high-risk, high-upside swing. They obviously have the available cash, too, including – conveniently! – the money saved at the Trade Deadline this year that could theoretically roll right over into a posting fee.
The numbers on Suzuki in Japan:
The scouting reports will start to get beefed up in the coming weeks as a Suzuki posting process begins, but here’s a couple looks from Baseball America. This one from September:
The righthanded hitter is in the midst of another outstanding NPB season, with high extra-base hit totals and a strong walk-to-strikeout ratio. He is a five-time NPB all-star who won the Central League batting title in 2019 and boasts a career line of .308/.399/.534 in more than 1,000 games.
Scouts see Suzuki as a potential average hitter, once he adjusts to MLB velocity, with above-average game power and raw power that grades as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His swing is geared for damage with an uppercut bat path, as opposed to the middle-of-the-field or even inside-out hitting approaches favored by many Japanese hitters. Like Senga, Suzuki participated in the Tokyo Olympics and ranked as the No. 6 prospect at the event. He went 3-for-18 (.167) with one home run for gold medal-winning Japan.
Suzuki will stay in right field with good range and an above-average arm. He’s a fair runner who has slowed with age and won’t factor with stolen bases. Suzuki will be 27 next season and in the prime of his career.
And this one from July, when he was identified as the best non-US prospect bat at the Olympics:
Suzuki is a five-time NPB all-star and won the Central League batting title in 2019. While many Japanese hitters keep their hands inside and take short, direct paths to the ball, Suzuki takes powerful uppercuts more conducive to the modern MLB game. He has plus-plus raw power and the bat speed, hand-eye coordination and feel for the barrel to be an average hitter once he adjusts to major league velocity, although there is some hesitation whether he will. He is an above-average defender with an above-average arm in right field. Suzuki’s offensive and defensive abilities make him a potential starting outfielder in MLB. He will be free agent after the 2022 season.
“He’s been the best player in Japan the last few years,” said a major league scout, who compared Suzuki to current Dodgers outfielder A.J. Pollock when Pollock was an All-Star with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Suzuki won a batting title two years ago when he batted .335. He’s smacked 25 or more homers in each of the last five years. He’s stolen as many as 25 bases in a season. He’s won four Gold Gloves. And he can throw, his fastball touching 92 mph when he pitched in high school.
“He’s a five-tool guy,” the same scout said.