Team Japan has dazzled at the World Baseball Classic this year, earning a spot in the semifinals. Of all the star power in Japan, however, most are focusing on 21-year-old ace Roki Sasaki.
“The Monster of the Reiwa Era” has impressed many during this tournament. On Monday, he averaged 100.5 miles per hour on his fastball in the Semifinal against Team Mexico.
That's not even mentioning the buzz around the young phenom before the tournament. Sasaki has been viewed as the next potential superstar Japanese import. The hype around the 21-year-old rivals that of Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani when he came to the United States.
So, when will we see Sasaki make the move to Major League Baseball? Here is a complete primer on The Monster of the Reiwa Era.
Roki Sasaki MLB posting timeline
Sasaki plays for Chiba Lotte in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), the top baseball league in Japan. An agreement exists between NPB and MLB where the Japanese league “posts” players for MLB teams to negotiate with.
For Sasaki to be posted, he'd have to put in a request with Chiba Lotte. The ball club can accept or deny his request, but if they accept, the team would post the 21-year-old.
Under the previous posting rules, NPB teams could set a release fee as high as $20 million. However, new posting rules, the release fee is based on the guaranteed value of the MLB contract a player signs. Major League contracts worth $100 million, for example, would net a release fee of $16.9 million for a NPB team.
For hypothetical purposes, let's say Sasaki is posted after the 2023 season. After his posting, all 30 MLB teams have 45 days to negotiate a contract with the Japanese phenom. If no agreement is reached, he returns to Japan and cannot be posted until the following offseason.
Now, the thing to note here is that foreign-born players are subject to international bonus pool money restrictions until the age of 25. Those players also need to have played in a recognized professional baseball league for a minimum of six seasons.
Sasaki is not 25 nor has he played six seasons in NPB. This means there are some challenges in getting him to the MLB prior to the age of 25. Sasaki turns 25 in 2027, and he would also be an international free agent at that point, allowing him to buy past the posting system.
The long and short of it is this. Sasaki could be posted at any time, so long as Chiba Lotte accepts his request to be posted. If Sasaki doesn't put in a posting request, then we likely won't see the phenom ace in MLB until the 2027 season.
Roki Sasaki Japan scouting profile
Sasaki pitched his first full season in NPB in 2022, and he thrived. He went 9-4 with a 2.02 ERA, 173 strikeouts, and a 12.0 K/9 in 129.1 innings pitched last season.
Sasaki's fastball was on full display against Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. His fastball reaches a similar velocity to Shohei Ohtani.
In a WBC warmup game, Rōki Sasaki threw this pitch at 102.5 MPH! He and Shohei Ohtani are the only two Japanese pitchers to ever throw a pitch so fast! pic.twitter.com/AlhstkPz1Q
— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) March 4, 2023
Sasaki has thrown this hard for a very long time. The Monster of the Reiwa Era once threw a pitch clocking in at 101 miles per hour during a high school game at the age of 17. Sasaki broke Ohtani's high school velocity record during the 2012 Summer Koshien tournament, a highly popular high school baseball tournament in Japan.
However, he might have a pitch that's even better. The 21-year-old throws a splitter that is simply dynamic. It can reach over 90 miles per hour with extreme movement. Some have even called this pitch a forkball.
Roki Sasaki's Splitter may be Hazardous to your Health. pic.twitter.com/Vgpbhsf7Ei
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 20, 2023
Here is his splitter overlaid with his fastball, from an earlier start at the World Baseball Classic:
Roki Sasaki — 101.3 mph fastball and 90.6 mph splitter overlaid pic.twitter.com/FOFbjn6qcB
— David Adler (@_dadler) March 11, 2023
Sasaki has other pitches in his arsenal. He throws a curveball at times, as well as a slider. However, it is his fastball and splitter that has Major League teams excited beyond belief.
He has used these two pitches to make history in Japan, both in high school and professionally. Just last season, he pitched the first perfect game in NPB since the 1994 season. And he did it against the eventual Japan Series champion Orix Buffaloes. He also tied a single-game strikeout record with 19.
Sasaki has all of the tools to become a superstar, whether he remains in Japan or moves to the US. How Sasaki has become so good so soon is anyone's guess, but I found this quote from his Team Japan manager very interesting.
“It's hard to explain,” Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama said after Sasaki's World Baseball Classic debut, “but to me, it's as if he is throwing his soul, not the baseball.”