Tag Archives: Roki Sasaki

No decision for Sasaki

Roki Sasaki announced Wednesday that he has registered for Nippon Professional Baseball’s amateur draft, displaying no interest in being a trailblazer in the ways of how amateur players deal with NPB teams.

The Ofunato High School pitcher was clocked (by one Chunichi Dragons scout) at 163 kph in April at a tryout camp for prospective national Under-18 players. The other scouts in attendance had him at 161, which is still just over 100 mph. He hit just under 100 mph in August’s Iwate-prefectural tournament.

Over a third of MLB’s 30 teams have been following the lanky right-hander with interest in hopes perhaps that he would bypass the NPB draft and sign directly with an MLB team in the 2020-2021 international signing window starting next June.

“I can’t even think of the major leagues now,” Sasaki said. “I want to do my best in Japan first.”

Because of his talent, Sasaki could have told the 80 or so members of the media what NPB teams were most frightened of: that he would only sign with a team that was willing to post him or that whoever drafted him would have to speak to his agent.

Those things could still come to pass, but don’t hold your breath. Japanese youth baseball teaches a lot of things that are not very useful, but it also teaches humility. When you go to the baseball ground, players doff their caps to every adult they pass and greet them.

It would have been a huge shock for Sasaki–even with a former pro ballplayer as his high school manager–to break with that tradition of subservience by assuming he had any right to sit at the same table with the teams that are now lining up to exploit him.

“There are 12 (Japanese) teams, and I desire to do my best wherever I go,” the 1.90-meter Sasaki said. “I want to become the kind of player who inspires children to dream and hope.”

That’s the script he’s been learning since he was a boy.

If he does sign with the Hawks or the Giants, he has to know what Koji Uehara didn’t realize when he turned pro with Yomiuri after turning down a huge offer from the Angels.

“Nine years (to free agency) is an awfully long time,” he said 10 years ago in an interview with the Daily Yomiuri. “But when you’re young you don’t think about that. You only think about the next step.”

One would hope that before he signs he gets a chance to sit down and chat with star Hawks pitcher Kodai Senga. One of Japan’s premier pitchers for the past four years, Senga is now 26. Because he was shuttled in and out of the Hawks roster for four years, he has only amassed five years of service time, although he turned pro out of high school.

At this pace, Senga will be eligible to file for international free agency after the 2023 season. He has asked SoftBank to post him and they’ve said, “We appreciate your concern, but we own you.”

Ideally, Sasaki would sign with a club that would promise to post him when he’s 25, so he can learn how to pitch in an extremely competitive environment, enter MLB as an international professional free agent, and reap his club a rich reward.

If he signs with the Hawks or Giants it will be another case of a pitcher spinning his gears, waiting for a chance that won’t come until he’s too old to learn some of the lessons he needs to realize his maximum potential. There’s no place better in the world to learn how to pitch than Japan, but there are things you can’t learn here.

Sasaki had elbow issue before start

Ofunato High School manager Yohei Kokubo, who was criticized by some in Japan for not throwing his ace pitcher Roki Sasaki two days in a row after he had thrown 332 pitches over four days, but not criticized for having him throw 194 pitches last Sunday, may have a new headache.

100-mph pitcher told medical staff of issues

The Nikkan Sports is reporting Friday morning that Sasaki, who has been clocked at 100 mph and has been followed by at least 20 of 30 MLB teams told the medical staff prior to Wednesday’s Iwate Prefecture semifinal that he felt discomfort in the inner part of his right elbow.

Sasaki, who hit 99.4 mph in the fourth inning of Sunday’s 12-inning, fourth-round game, threw 129 pitches in the semifinal. Manager Kokubo, who had previously treated his star carefully, held him out Thursday’s final — a 12-2 loss to local powerhouse Hanamaki Higashi HS, due to muscle stiffness. Something that flies in the face of Japanese high school baseball tradition, where, it seems, nothing short of death is an excuse to keep your best pitcher off the mound in a big game.

Sasaki threw 435 pitches over 4 games

In 29 innings over four games of Iwate’s prefectural tournament, Sasaki threw 435 pitches over 29 innings. He allowed two runs on nine hits and struck out 51 batters.

Before that last game, he had apparently not recovered fully from Sunday’s marathon and told the Iwate Prefecture High School Baseball Federation’s medical staff about the discomfort.

Despite that, he pitched and showed no ill effects, hitting close 98 mph with ease in his loose relaxed motion.

That is the problem in Japanese amateur ball in a nutshell. Pitchers whose arms are in danger may still be able to pitch effectively — but in so doing may push their elbow ligaments past the breaking point.

The Nikkan Sports writer asserts that there was “only a small chance of the injury getting worse” but he is asserting something that even a thorough examination could ascertain.

Former manager: ‘I would have thrown him,’ but…

A story on Asahi.com asked Shinichi Sawada, the former manager of Iwate Prefecture’s Morioka Dai Fuzoku HS about Kokubo’s decision, and Sawada praised the choice of holding Sasaki out to protect his arm, saying he could not have made that choice.

“It was a brave decision,” Sawada said. “If it had been me, I would have said, ‘I’m counting on you,’ and sent him out there.”

Yet, Sawada applauded it.

“Even if the player wants to go, it’s the coach’s job to protect the children’s future,” Sawada said. “Until now the dogma has been training kids to have guts through an absolute focus on winning. But going forward, we have to respect the rights and wants of the students. I think manager Kokubo is the picture of the new age manager.”

Sawada recommended the regional tournaments switch to round robins from the current knockout style in order to reduce the number of games on the top teams.