Who is Roki Sasaki, the Japanese ‘monster’ pitcher Yankees scouting?

Japanese pitcher Roki Sasaki is pitching during a NPB game in 2024.
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The New York Yankees are reportedly keen on Japanese pitching phenom Roki Sasaki, following their unsuccessful bid for Yoshinobu Yamamoto last offseason. The team appears to be zeroing in on Sasaki to enhance their pitching lineup.

According to Erik Boland of Newsday, the Yankees have deployed several key scouts to assess Roki Sasaki. Pro scout Alex Sunderland, alongside Brandon Duckworth and Jay Darnell, has already evaluated him. Furthermore, pro scouting director Matt Daley is scheduled to observe the pitcher later this season.

Interest in Roki Sasaki has surged across Major League Baseball, as noted by Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post. Janes indicated that the Japanese player’s readiness to transition, coupled with MLB teams’ enthusiasm for his skills, might expedite his move from Nippon Professional Baseball to the United States.

Who is Roki Sasaki?

Japanese pitcher Roki Sasaki is on the New York Yankees' radar.
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Roki Sasaki, dubbed “the Monster” for his formidable fastball, has risen from tragedy to become a baseball sensation in Japan. He survived the devastating 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami, which took the lives of his father and grandparents and destroyed his home. Relocating to Ofunato, the young arm embarked on his baseball career.

In high school, Roki Sasaki shattered Shohei Ohtani’s fastball velocity record, reaching 163 km/h (101 mph). This remarkable achievement drew comparisons to Ohtani and piqued the interest of Major League Baseball teams. Nonetheless, he opted to stay in Japan to compete in the High School Baseball Championship.

The Chiba Lotte Marines selected Roki Sasaki as their top pick in the 2019 NPB draft. The team took a cautious approach to his development, delaying his NPB debut until May 16, 2021. During his rookie season, the pitcher recorded a 3-2 record, a 2.27 ERA, and 68 strikeouts over 63 1/3 innings in 11 appearances, showcasing his immense potential.

Roki Sasaki’s journey from disaster survivor to professional baseball star underscores his resilience and extraordinary talent, establishing him as one of Japan’s most promising young pitchers.

Japan’s Lotte Marines pitcher Roki Sasaki poses for a photo in Chiba, near Tokyo Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, after he signed a contract for the coming season with the team.
Kyodo News via AP

On April 10, 2022, Roki Sasaki pitched a historic perfect game against the Orix Buffaloes in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). This remarkable achievement marked the first perfect game in NPB since 1994 and the 94th no-hitter overall. He tied the NPB record for strikeouts in a game with 19 and set a new world record by striking out 13 consecutive batters.

Roki Sasaki nearly repeated this extraordinary feat on April 17, pitching eight perfect innings against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters before being pulled from the game.

On April 28, 2023, Roki Sasaki equaled Shohei Ohtani’s NPB record for the fastest pitch by a Japanese player, throwing four pitches at 165 km/h (102.5 mph). He concluded the 2022 season with a 9-4 record, a 2.02 ERA, and 173 strikeouts over 129 1/3 innings.

Roki Sasaki also represented Japan in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, playing a pivotal role in their championship win over the United States. During the tournament, he recorded a 1-0 record with a 3.52 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. His standout performance against Mexico was highlighted by a four-seam fastball averaging 100.5 mph and peaking at 101.9 mph, along with a split-finger fastball averaging 91.2 mph with 31.4 inches of vertical break.

Despite this heightened interest, the timeline for Roki Sasaki’s potential MLB debut remains uncertain. The Yankees’ pursuit of Sasaki underscores their ongoing efforts to bolster their pitching staff and secure a prominent Japanese player, a move not seen from the team in recent years.

This strategic focus on Roki Sasaki highlights the Yankees‘ commitment to international talent acquisition and acknowledges Sasaki’s exceptional abilities, setting up potential competition among MLB teams for his signature.

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Japanese pitching sensation Roki Sasaki has become a focal point in Major League Baseball discussions, despite a recent right arm injury. MLB teams are gearing up for a potential bidding war, drawn to Sasaki’s impressive talent and the financial benefits of signing him before he turns 25.

Roki Sasaki’s remarkable 1.96 ERA and high strikeout rate have intensified the buzz. The Los Angeles Dodgers are emerging as strong contenders, with the tantalizing possibility of pairing him with Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto generating considerable excitement among their fan base.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Padres, guided by AJ Preller, have shown keen interest in Roki Sasaki, emphasizing their commitment to acquiring top international talent. Similarly, the New York Mets, having recently pursued Yamamoto, are expected to be active contenders in the race for him.

Scouts from various MLB teams are already stationed in Japan, closely monitoring Roki Sasaki as a potential cornerstone for their franchises. This widespread attention highlights his perceived value and the highly competitive nature of MLB’s international talent acquisition efforts.

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