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When can Roki Sasaki come to the MLB? Japan’s star pitcher timeline and posting explained

Is Roki Sasaki in the MLB? Which team does he play for? Everything you need to know about the Japanese phenom who’s starting vs Mexico in the WBC semifinals

Update:
Is Roki Sasaki in the MLB? Which team does he play for? Everything you need to know about the Japanese phenom
Kyodo NewsGetty

Roki Sasaki, the 21-year-old Japanese phenom, will make his first start on U.S. soil when he takes the mound for Japan in the semifinal showdown with Mexico at the World Baseball Classic. Monday night’s start will mark his introduction to a U.S. audience that will surely want to keep him around permanently.

According to some talent evaluators, Samurai Sasaki is already being referred to as the best pitcher in the world, right there with his teammate Shohei Ohtani, whose broken many records in and out of the MLB.

Related: What makes Shohei Ohtani such a remarkable baseball player? A look at his career and stats

Sasaki is the youngest of Japan’s three superstars who are turning heads in the sport: Munetaka Murakami, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Sasaki. All three players are on Samurai Japan for WBC ‘23.

Sasaki, the one with the most electric talent, went 9-4 with a 2.02 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 129 1/3 innings (12.0 K/9) for the Chiba Lotte Marines in his first whole season in NPB.

In his first appearance on an international stage the size of the WBC’s, Sasaki threw 3.2 innings, struck out eight, and allowed one unearned run against the Czech Republic, a performance that made it easy for evaluators to imagine the 21-year-old performing against the world’s best hitters in the same manner.

In a few years, Sasaki could be the next Ohtani in Major League Baseball.

Sasaki’s MLB dream

Just before the World Baseball Classic, Sasaki told reporters that playing in Major League Baseball “is my dream.”

But the Monster of the Reiwa Era- a nickname given to Sasaki based on the current era of Japan’s calendar, which started two years before Sasaki threw his first pitch in NPB (in 2019)- does not have a timeline yet to jump from NPB to MLB. But he knows he will make the shift when the time is right.

Sasaki knows that waiting for the international bonus pool restrictions for MLB teams under the Japanese posting system to lift won’t get him in the Major Leagues until the 2027 season, which is when he’ll be 25 years old.

He has the option of making the jump earlier, like Ohtani did with the Angels at 23 years old. He even spoke with Ohtani about what playing for a Major League team, in a Major League environment, is like.

“For the Major Leagues,” Sasaki said at the World Baseball Classic, “rather than the timing, I think I will play in Japan, and then I think something will become clear when I’m going to shift over.