Top International Prospect Roki Sasaki Shares ‘Desire’ To Play In MLB

Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Shōta Imanaga are among the stars who have made the jump from Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) to MLB this offseason.

There was some thought that fellow Japanese star pitcher Roki Sasaki could join them, but the Chiba Lotte Marines did not post him before the December 15, 2023, deadline.

There is some belief Sasaki held out on signing his contract to secure guaranteed language of his posting next offseason, or whenever he chooses, putting the Marines in a challenging position.

However, Sasaki has since re-signed with the Pacific League club and reiterated his wish to play in MLB someday, via Kyodo News:

“I have the desire to play in the U.S. Major Leagues in the future,” Sasaki said at a press conference. “I’ve been having proper communication with the club every year. I believe the club understands it too.”

When asked when he plans to make the jump to the Majors, Sasaki could not give a definitive answer:

The hard-throwing pitcher dodged a question about when he intended to move to MLB, saying, “For 2024, I believe it’s important to play well in the season that’s right in front of me.”

While there was speculation over the delay of Sasaki’s contract signing, Marines executive Naomi Matsumoto said it had nothing to with the right-hander being upset:

Lotte executive Naoki Matsumoto said the agreement’s delay was caused by factors that included negotiating through an intermediary and Sasaki’s offseason practice schedule.

Matsumoto said there was no truth to reports of rancor, saying they sprang from the mistaken belief that Sasaki had only informed the Marines of his desire to play in MLB last year.

MLB posting system rules require foreign-born players to have completed six professional seasons or be at least 25 years old in order to be eligible for free agency without any restrictions.

If posted before that point, Sasaki’s earning potential would be capped in the same way it was for Ohtani when he left NPB at just 23 years old. It would also limit the posting fee owed to the Marines, which is why they may be hesitant to let Sasaki go before he turns 25.

Roki Sasaki career

Sasaki was selected by the Marines with the first overall pick in the 2019 NPB Draft. He is coming off a season that saw him go 7-4 with a 1.78 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and 135 strikeouts in 91 innings across 15 starts.

Sasaki also played for Team Japan in the 2023 World Baseball Classic and further added to his profile when his fastball reached 103 mph during the summer.

The Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly will be among the most aggressive teams for Sasaki when he is officially posted by the Marines.

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