Japanese Phenom Taking Talents to MLB…as Early as 2027

Rintaro Sasaki is referred to as the "Japanese Prince Fielder"

October 18, 2023 12:01 pm
Fans hold up a Japanese flag during the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
MLB will be welcoming a new Japanese slugger, eventually.
Rob Tringali/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty

Japanese Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani is set to hit the free-agent market during the upcoming MLB offseason and will likely be linked to every baseball team and their mother. His teammate from last spring’s World Baseball Classic, 25-year-old right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, is also expected to move to Major League Baseball and should command a good deal of interest after throwing two no-hitters in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league.

The Dodgers, who have one of the priciest rosters in baseball but bowed out of the postseason with a first-round playoff exit for the second straight year, are a ballclub that will probably be in on both Yamamoto and Ohtani.

“We’re just looking to get as many talented players as we can to be aggressive and put the best team on the field that we can,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Tuesday. “We need to figure out what we can do differently and how to go about it. When there’s an organizational failure I think it starts and ends with me. I didn’t do a good enough job.”

If Friedman is doing his job, he’ll soon be scouting Japanese high school phenom Rintaro Sasaki, who has not submitted an application for the upcoming NBP draft and instead plans to play college baseball in the United States with Vanderbilt as the early leader to obtain his services.

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A power-hitting first baseman, Sasaki clocks in at 250 pounds and has hit 140 home runs, a Japanese high school record. Just 17 years old, could be eligible for the MLB Draft as early as 2027 if he signs with a four-year college. Had he opted to be drafted in the NPB, Sasaki would have needed at least nine years of service time before he could have freely signed with an MLB team of his choosing or gotten his ballclub to post him for bidding as Ohtani’s team did before the Angels spent big bucks to get him.

Referred to as the “Japanese Prince Fielder” by the English-language NPB channel Yakyu Cosmopolitan, Sasaki’s 70-grade raw power is already projected to result in 30-plus home runs annually in MLB, according to ESPN.

Did we mention he’s just 17? And already a team player. “I am not obsessed with the number of home runs I hit,” Sasaki said earlier this year. “I appreciate the attention, but my priority is to help the team win. I only think about fulfilling my role.”

Fun fact: Sasaki was coached by his father Hiroshi Sasaki at Hanamaki-Higashi High. Ohtani attended the same high school and was also coached by the elder Sasaki.

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