Which WBC stars could join MLB in the near future?

Mar 22, 2023 - 11:00 AM
World Baseball Classic Championship: United States v Japan
Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images

With the World Baseball Classic concluded, it’s a good time to start considering which of the players we saw in the last few weeks are due to eventually come stateside and be posted to sign a contract with an MLB club. As the game grows and the talent level around the world grows with it, the level of impact these players can have on MLB teams will be significant. And more interestingly, they have the potential to impact teams immediately. This year, we will see Masataka Yoshida on the Red Sox, Kodai Senga on the Mets, and Shintaro Fujinami on the Athletics. When it comes to the Yankees, I think a few players in particular can be great fits in the short and medium term. With that in mind, let’s do a review of the top players set to come over within the next few years that could be potential fits in the Bronx.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto (SP), Orix Buffaloes (NPB)

Yamamoto put his repertoire on display in the WBC with a few very impressive performances, including a lockdown relief appearance against Mexico in the semifinal. FanGraphs has him ranked as the second overall prospect on the International prospect board with a 55 future value, or about a 3.5-4.5 win pitcher. He is only 24, his repertoire is polished, and he is coming off two straight MVPs. He is due to be posted after this season and will probably be the third best pitcher on the free agent market behind Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Nola. This is the type of guy that is going to be at the top of a rotation immediately.

Jung-hoo Lee (OF), Kiwoom Heroes (KBO)

Lee might be the best hitting prospect to ever come from the KBO. He is the son of a former KBO MVP and is the only player to ever jump from high school to the league’s top level. Also off the tail of an MVP year, he is already in his prime. FanGraphs has him ranked as a 50 future value due to elite contact rates and a swing with natural lift. In my personal opinion, I think Lee will have an adjustment period when he hits MLB due to his swing mechanics and too many body movements. That’s not to say he won’t be a quality hitter, but it will be tough to do so without some key tweaks that will let his skills play up. He too will only be 24 when he is posted after this season, making him a very appealing free agent.

Munetaka Murakami (3B), Yakult Swallows (NPB)

In my opinion, this is the player for the Yankees to target if they had to pick one. Murakami’s swing is simple, yet incredibly powerful. He doesn’t have too much lift either, making me think he won’t be too susceptible to the strikeout. I struggle to think of a comparison for him because he is so wide and stretchy. At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds he is the size of a football player and has the bat speed to show it. In terms of low effort and outlier bat speed, the one player I can think of is Giancarlo Stanton, but I don’t think their swings are similar at all. He will absolutely be a perennial All-Star when he comes over, and his 60 future value grade at FanGraphs reflects that. He will be posted after 2025 when he is 26 years old. He has set the single season home run record in the NPB, and I’d expect him to continue those home run hitting ways in MLB — hopefully it’s in the Bronx with the Yankees.

Rōki Sasaki (SP), Chiba Lotte Marines (NPB)

Sasaki was the most anticipated pitcher in the WBC. After hearing about his 19-strikeout perfect game last year, his 102 mph fastballs, and his 93 mph splitters, everybody was highly anticipating what he would do on the bright stage. His splitter was mesmerizing. It cuts, slides, sinks, drops, and goes invisible. His grip a little off the side of the seams gives the pitch a unique, unpredictable shape and his perfectly sequenced mechanics let him maintain his velocity across all his pitches. His 50 future value at FanGraphs is more due to typical pitcher risk for somebody this explosive rather than how formidable his stuff will be. But with time, he will develop and improve his repertoire to be an ace in MLB. It’s unclear when he will be posted, but there is a chance for him to come along with Murakami after 2025 if he is willing to take the same track as Ohtani.

We saw how talented all four of these players were in the incredible tournament that was the WBC. It’s increased my excitement for each of them, and how they might fit into the Bronx. As I said, I think Murakami will be the best fit for this org, and my gut is the front office will think the same, but we will just have to wait and see.

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