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Roki Sasaki Says He Wants to Play in MLB but Won’t Say When That Might be

Jiji Press
Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher Roki Sasaki speaks during a press conference on Saturday.

TOKYO (AP) — Pitcher Roki Sasaki is the next big thing out of Japanese baseball. It’s just not clear when he will make it to Major League Baseball.

The 22-year-old Sasaki just signed a contract for the coming season with the Lotte Marines. But at a press conference he made it clear where he wants to eventually land.

“I have the desire to play in the U.S. major leagues in the future,” the Kyodo news agency reported from a Saturday press conference with Sasaki. “I’ve been communicating every year. I believe the club [Lotte] understands it too.”

Sasaki has watched Shohei Ohtani just sign a record-setting $700 million, 10-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Days later, pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto signed a $325 million, 12-year deal with the Dodgers. Many believe Sasaki is a better prospect than Yamamoto.

Sasaki could land another astounding contract, but he may have to wait.

Asked when he would play in MLB, Kyodo reported him saying very little: “I believe it’s important to play well in the season that’s right in front of me.”

Japanese baseball guards its talent. Japanese professional baseball players generally do not become free agents until they have played for almost a decade. They can go earlier under a special so-called “posting” system, in which the Japanese club agrees to let a player go.

Reports suggest that Sasaki, the youngest to throw a perfect game in Japan, may have negotiated a contract that will let him leave earlier — perhaps after this season. The reports have not been confirmed by Lotte.

Last season, Sasaki suffered an oblique muscle injury that limited him to 15 games and 91 innings. But in March of 2023 he helped Japan win the World Baseball Classic.

Sasaki pitched a perfect game on April 10, 2022, against the Orix Buffaloes and struck out 19 — 13 in a row at one point. In the next start on April 17, he pitched eight perfect innings against the Nippon-Ham Fighters before he was pulled for cautionary reasons, He had 14 strikeouts in that outing, including striking out the side in the eighth and showing off a 101-mph fastball.