Top Japanese Hitting Prospects 2016/2017
The 2016 NPB regular season has just ended (all except one make-up game that has no effect on the standings), so it’s a good time for my annual posts on the top NPB prospects in terms of possible playing in MLB some day. This post addresses the position player prospects, and I’m pleased to say that the best of these players look even better now than they did a year ago.
Tetsuto Yamada (age 24 in 2017). I’m more convinced than ever that only a major injury will prevent Yamada from playing in MLB one day. He led NPB’s Central League in almost all major offensive categories until late in the season when minor but nagging injuries brought down his performance both at the plate and in the field. Even so, he finished the 2016 season with the Central League’s 6th best batting average (.306), third in on-base percentage (.425), and third in slugging percentage (.607). He also stole 30 bases in 32 attempts while playing a middle infield position (2B). It was the second season in a row he slugged 38 home runs. MLB ETA: 2020/2021.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (25). Tsutsugo hit better than Yamada this year, finishing 3rd in the Central League in batting average (.322), second in OBP (.430) and first in SLG (.680). He ranks lower than Yamada because he’s a year older, much slower and likely does not have nearly as much defensive value. MLB ETA: 2020.
Seiya Suzuki (22). Had a break-through season at age 21, finishing second in the Central League in batting average (.335), fourth in OBP (.404) and second in SLG (.612). MLB ETA: 2022.
Shohei Otani (22). Aside from being the best pitching prospect in NPB, Otani is also a top hitting prospect, something he put a fine point in 2016, slashing .322/.416/.588 in 382 plate appearances accumulated between his 21 pitching appearances. If he’d had enough plate appearances, his SLG and OBP would have been first and no worse than fourth best respectively in the Pacific League. It is seen as unlikely that MLB teams will judge his batting potential as equal to his pitching potential, but the most recent information is that Otani wants to play both ways one day in MLB.
Hideto Asamura (26). Asamura had a tremendous season in 2013 at age 22 when he recorded a .942 OPS, tops in the Pacific League. He regressed badly in 2014 and 2015, hitting in the low .270’s each year, getting on base, but not hitting for much power.
In 2016, a strong finish to the season brought Asamura’s numbers close to those in 2013. His .309 batting average was third best in the Pacific League and he had 64 extra base hits, giving him the third best slugging percentage in the league (.510). His .357 OBP was not impressive, however, and he doesn’t seem to have much speed left, hitting no triples and stealing eight bases in 14 attempts.
Asamura played mostly 1B during his big 2013 season and has played mostly 2B since then. His raw defensive numbers at 2B the last two years look good.
Asamura will need for his age 26 and 27 seasons to look like his age 22 season if he wants to play in MLB. His 2016 season suggests that they very well could. MLB ETA: 2018-2019.
Hayato Sakamoto (28). A shortstop, Sakamoto had a terrific 2016 season, leading the Central League with a .344 batting average and a .433 OBP and finishing fourth with a .555 SLG. He earned his international free agent option this year, but reportedly signed a multi-year deal with the Yomiuri Giants last off-season, so he won’t be coming to MLB in 2017. If he continues to hit the way he did in his age 27 season, he may well decide he wants to test himself against the world’s best when his current contract expires.