Baseball

Seiya Suzuki, NPB’s Next Big Thing

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Introducing Seiya Suzuki, the next name from the NPB of Japan that you’re going to want to know. Rumors have swirled that Suzuki may be posted for MLB clubs to sign as first reported in this article by Yahoo Japan.

The 27-year-old is something of a utility player, listed as a 3B, SS, as well as RF. As of recently he seems to be staking his home in RF. Suzuki is looking to become the next star to make the jump from Japan across the Pacific to the MLB, joining the likes of Ha-Seong Kim of the Padres, presumptive MVP Shohei Ohtani of the Angels, and Kohei Arihara of the Rangers.

Suzuki would be making the move from the Hiroshima Carp, who’s last NPB product to make the jump to the MLB was ace starter Kenta Maeda, currently of the Minnesota Twins. Typically, the most successful players to make the transition tend to be pitchers, as their stuff is likely to translate better between leagues, but there’s exceptions to every rule (looking at Ohtani and Ichiro) and Seiya Suzuki certainly has potential to join those names. With wRC+ above 160 in every season since 2016, including a 211 this past season, Suzuki should strike fear in MLB pitchers the moment he makes the jump.

The general consensus among MLB scouts is that the NPBs talent level exists somewhere in the (admittedly vast) realm between AAA and the MLB, which if true, there’s reason to believe Suzuki will be remarkably successful. Suzuki is a four time winner of the NPB Best 9 Award; given to the best player at an individual position, as well as a five time All-Star.

Breakdown of His Notable Tools:

Remarkably Good Eye: 55 Grade

Suzuki’s batting statistics are eye-popping, slightly Juan Soto-esque. This fella takes walks, and he takes them by the handful. In his nine year career in the NPB he’s got a career OBP of .415, .100 points higher than his .315 career BA. Suzuki led the entirety of the NPB in OBP, as well as BA in 2019. His ability to draw out counts and produce walks is a significant reason for that. A career walk rate of 14% is a sign of fantastic plate discipline, a skill that is likely to translate from the NPB to the MLB. His K% hovers around the 20% mark, although it is likely to see a rise on account of the increase in quality of the pitching he faces.

Double Plus Power: 60 Grade

If there’s one thing to know about Seiya Suzuki, it’s that he packs some power in his bat. Hitting a homer once every 16 AB’s is a testament to that fact. Every year since 2016 Suzuki has hit upwards of 25 home runs, with the same rule applying for doubles. All of this was done in a season nearly 20 games shorter than the MLB, as the NPB plays 143 game seasons. Extrapolate those numbers to a per 162 basis, and Suzuki is looking at a nearly 30 double 30 homer season. In the 2021 MLB season less than 45 batters were able to produce a 25 double, 25 homer year despite nearly a month extra on their season, proving the special potential in Suzuki’s bat. His career SLG sits at .572, with an OPS of .986, elite numbers for an elite player who can not only hit for average, but power as well. Suzuki’s offensive package resembles Nick Castellanos’ 2021 season, and on the offensive end that feels like a solid player comparison, despite a smaller frame.

Moderately Alright Baserunning: 45 Grade

Suzuki’s baserunning isn’t going to be the tool that draws teams to him, but his numbers indicate an ability to swipe a bag if necessary. He posted a career number in the 2019 season with 25 steals, and has topped 15 in two other years, but his numbers are inflated by a large number of attempts. Suzuki himself; potentially a result of an aggressive base running strategy employed by the Hiroshima Carp, tends to get caught stealing rather frequently. His career numbers in the NPB are 82 successful SB, as compared to 52 times in which he was caught stealing. His career SB% is 61%, and if you compare that to SB% among players in the MLB who attempted at least 20 steals, Suzuki would be tied with Rays OF Manuel Margot for dead last.

Suzuki has cut down the swipe attempts over the last two seasons, tying his career low of times he’s been caught stealing in both 2020 and 2021. It will most likely not be any standout portion of his game when he moves stateside, but he’s not super slow by any means either.

Plus Outfield Defense: 50-55 Grade

With three different gold gloves under his belt, Suzuki proves to be a slightly above average fielder. He’s known in Japan more so for his arm than for fielding ability, mostly attributed to the fact that OF is not his natural position. Before his debut in Japan’s top league he was primarily playing on the left side of the infield, but with his jump to the top flight he found a home in the corner OF spot. Expect him to remain in the corners when/if he makes the jump to the MLB this upcoming season.

Contract Speculation And Potential Landing Spots:

Suzuki’s contract details are vague, with no serious reporting about potential numbers floated out there yet. It’s rumored that he may be looking at a deal in the $8-10M AAV range, which if true is well within the price range of the majority of MLB clubs looking to add an impact bat. Among clubs listed as interested according to the original story, the Mariners, Royals, Rays, Phillies, Rangers, and Blue Jays find themselves on the list. With no concrete talks between the player and MLB orgs, those names remain purely speculative. Seattle does have relatively solid ties in Japan, as well as a rather devout fan base across the Pacific on account of another Suzuki (no relation) who starred in the MLB for them, so seeing their name here comes as no shock.

An interesting team that could make a lot of sense for Suzuki is the Chicago Cubs. Although not listed among those interested yet, the expressed desire of the front office to retool and reload as opposed to engaging in a full rebuild could see Suzuki as a jump off point for that plan. Not really in a contending window of any sort, the Cubs could allow Suzuki to establish himself and get used to the MLB game before anything major is expected of him. Pairing him with Brennen Davis, the 14th ranked prospect in all of the MLB could form an outfield duo that produces a combined total of 50 home runs year in and year out at a minimum.

Seiya Suzuki is bound to be a name worth knowing come opening day next year, and if your team is rumored to be interested in him, consider yourself lucky. The outfielder has all the makings of an impact player for multiple years, and should be a welcome addition to wherever he calls home.

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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