Future Cubs Target: Roki Sasaki
Sam Navarro - USA Today Sports

Future Cubs Target: Roki Sasaki

by - Senior Writer -

It's no secret that the Chicago Cubs will need to address the future of their rotation soon. Adding Shota Imanaga was a big help for this season and beyond, but with Kyle Hendricks in the final year of his deal and the uncertainty of Jameson Taillon putting together a complete regular season, the Cubs are still going to have question marks regarding the future of their rotation.

Jordan Wicks and Javier Assad showed a ton of promise last season, and both are expected to play a massive role not only this season but for the next several years. You also have Ben Brown and Cade Horton waiting in the wings, although it does appear that Brown may be moving to the pen for good. Even with the Cubs rotation being in a much better place than in seasons past, it's never too early to look at the future where one of the most promising pitchers ever to step foot on a Japanese mound could be available.

His name is Roki Sasaki, and he is expected to come to the MLB in the coming years. After seeing Yoshinbu Yamamoto and Imanaga ink massive deals this offseason and Kenta Maeda signing last season, it's clear that teams still value the success of Japanese-born pitchers hailing from the NPB. Sasaki is another one of those guys, and at just 22 years old, whenever he does decide to come here, he could be the most sought-after Japanese player in recent memory.

According to Kyodo News agency, Sasaki has been discussing the MLB for several years and continues to clarify that it is his ultimate goal.

"I have the desire to play in the U.S. Major Leagues in the future," the flamethrowing righty said during a news conference Saturday, according to the Kyodo news agency. "I've been communicating every year. I believe the club understands it, too."

Those are some strong words from the 6-2, 187-pound righty, but despite only pitching in three seasons, he has dominated the league, which is scary when you look at his age. Sasaki is coming off a 2023 where record wise, he was only 7-4, but with a career-best 1.78 ERA, he continues to make life miserable for hitters. What stands out the most is his velocity, which we will get into in a minute, but with only 17 walks and 134 punchouts, he has incredible command. Mix that with that velocity, and he is a nightmare to deal with who will only get better.

Sasaki is still evolving as a pitcher for his career, but with a 20-10 record thus far and a 1.90 ERA, it's hard to fathom how much better he can get. Although he has only thrown more than 100 innings once, he has tallied 303 career innings so far, as Chiba Lotte has been monitoring his workload to begin his career. In those innings, Sasaki has not only dominated but overpowered hitters at times, as he has 59 walks and 389 punchouts thus far.

The biggest question is when Sasaki will ultimately decide to jump to the MLB. Some think it could be as early as the 2024 offseason, but others believe it may be a few more years until he can fully master his craft. Sasaki has always had the same goal of focusing on the season in front of him, so don't expect a decision to come as early as Yamamoto and others this offseason.

Although there are many unknowns with Sasaki, no one will argue the stuff he has, which is ACE-caliber stuff. He has one of the best heaters to come out of Japan that can touch 100 MPH and pairs that with the classic splitter that can touch 90. Those are the primary pitches he throws, and given how much success he has had so far, he hasn't needed to throw any more pitches.

That could be what he is focussing on now before jumping to the MLB, as he will need at least three if not four, pitches to make it as a starter. Sasaki has been working on an 88 MPH change, which should be used much more this season, and an unpolished slurve. After watching Yamamoto getting a 12-year deal with the Dodgers and Imanaga inking a 50 million dollar deal, some wonder where Sasaki could fall on the spectrum.

That could be the biggest question, as he is three years younger than Yamamoto, and from all accounts, most people feel he is a better overall prospect. However, given that he has less than six years of experience, he would need more time to land that type of contract, which is where the posting questions arise.

From the Cubs side of things, the earlier he posts himself, the better it will be as the Cubs could get him on a long-term deal for a fraction of what he is worth. However, from a professional perspective, Sasaki may want to stick around Japan for a few more years, as that six-year mark could allow him to sign the largest Japanese contract in MLB history.

Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani was subject to those same rules when he was posted by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2017. The Angels signed Ohtani for $2.315 million. After reaching six years of MLB service time, Ohtani entered unrestricted free agency this past November and signed a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers.

Even if most of the fans have yet to become familiar with what Sasaki has been able to do, the MLB world had a taste of how good he can be during Japan's World Baseball Classic run last spring. In 2022, Sasaki became the youngest pitcher in history to throw a perfect game, striking out 19 men in that outing.

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