Japanese phenom Rintaro Sasaki skipping NPB to play college baseball in U.S.: Reports

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Japanese high school baseball phenom Rintaro Sasaki has not submitted an application for the upcoming Nippon Professional Baseball draft and instead plans to play college baseball in the United States, according to multiple reports. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Sasaki, 6 feet tall and 250 pounds, was projected to be the top pick in the NPB draft before he made his decision to forgo it, according to the reports.
  • The 17-year-old hit a Japanese high school record of 140 home runs.
  • Sasaki played first base at Hanamaki-Higashi High, where his father Hiroshi Sasaki coaches. MLB superstar Shohei Ohtani attended the same high school and was also coached by the elder Sasaki.

Sasaki’s potential path to MLB

Sasaki’s decision is relatively unprecedented. Last year, Rikuu Nishida was selected in the 11th round of the MLB Draft by the Chicago White Sox. Nishida was born and raised in Japan but elected to play his collegiate ball in the U.S., first suiting up for two seasons at Mt. Hood (Ore.) Community College before spending his junior season at Oregon. Nishida wasn’t nearly as high-profile a prospect in Japan as Sasaki, however.

Sasaki’s path to the major leagues could be expedited by playing in the U.S. Assuming he signs with a four-year school, Sasaki could be eligible for the MLB Draft as early as 2027. Had he been drafted in the NPB, he would have to receive permission from his Japanese club to be “posted,” a system that allows NPB players to be signed by MLB teams. Players need at least nine years of service time in the NPB before they can freely sign with MLB teams.

Sasaki could have also elected to try to sign with an MLB team as an amateur free agent, but his bonus would have been limited by the international bonus pool caps that each MLB team is bound by. Traditionally, MLB organizations have refrained from scouting and signing Japanese amateur players in deference to their relationship with the NPB.

If Sasaki plays college baseball in the U.S., he would be MLB Draft-eligible in three years, which wouldn’t grant him free agency, of course, but would give him a quicker entry to the MLB system and potentially a higher signing bonus than one he would have received as an amateur free agent, assuming he goes in the top two rounds. — Melissa Lockard, MLB editor

(Photo: Jasen Vinlove / USA Today)

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