Scout the Statline: Talent Across the Pond
In dynasty leagues, information asymmetry leads to opportunity. Having the right information before the competition is how you gain an advantage. Typically we highlight interesting high rising prospects based on our peak projection tools (located at scoutthestatline.com), however, in this edition we’re going to do something a little different (while retaining our signature focus on data) and explore high-level talent that will likely be coming from Japan and Korea to the major leagues in the coming years. The genesis of this article stems from a Tweet that I sent out a couple weeks ago and I wanted to share some more details on these potential fantasy impacts.
Five overseas players that I am keeping a close eye on over the coming years:
1. Munetaka Murakami
2. Roki Sasaki
3. Yoshinobu Yamamoto
4. Jung-hoo Lee
5. Baek Ho Kang
Each has top 100 prospect potential, Sasaki and Murakami potential #1's.
Anyone else I should watchlist?
— Ross Jensen (@RossJensen12) August 10, 2022
Team: Yakult, JPCL, NPB
MLB ETA: 2025
Ceiling: #1 prospect
As I write this, at just 22 years old, Murakami is in the midst of a legendary season in the Nippon Professional Baseball League. With about 2/3rds of the season in the books, Murakami currently sits at 44 home runs, with an outside chance of chasing the all-time Nippon league home run record of 60 in a season. Murakami’s overall stat line is nothing short of impressive, with a .327/.457/.723 slash, nearly as many walks as strikeouts (87:93), and 11 stolen bases for good measure. He leads NPB with 8 WAR on the season.
Murakami has effortless power and it’s hard not to be impressed by the videos of him crushing home runs to all areas of the field. This is the type of overseas talent that has the potential to come over as the #1 overall prospect. Unless there is some kind of special deal struck like there was with Ohtani prior to the 2018 season, Murakami will not be eligible to come stateside until 2025, though he will still just be 25 years old by then. If you play in a league that allows you to reach forward for these types of talents, I would seriously look into adding Murakami to your team at your earliest opportunity. Even if his debut remains three years out, Murakami is likely to be just as impactful as next year’s #1 overall pick in the MLB draft by then. He’ll be the biggest name coming over from Japan since Shohei Ohtani (to whom Murakami’s offensive output and track record compare favorably).
22 year old Munetaka Murakami has quickly emerged as Japan’s newest superstar hitting .329 with 44 HR over 374 AB this season. pic.twitter.com/bf2NDk30z2
— Chase Denton (@chasedenton_) August 22, 2022
Team: Chiba Lotte, JPPL, NPB
MLB ETA: 2026
Ceiling: #1 prospect
Sasaki made news early in the season with an impressive streak that included him setting an NPB record by retiring 53 straight hitters and tying another record by striking out 19 hitters in a game. During the span, Sasaki threw 17 straight perfect innings and the first NPB perfect game since 1994. Sasaki, just 20 years old, has an explosive repertoire that includes a fastball that can be dialed all the way up to 102 MPH, a slider and a forkball that both have significant rotation and movement. Overall on the season, Sasaki holds a 2.29 ERA and a minuscule 0.821 WHIP while striking out nearly 13 hitters per 9 innings.
Like Murakami, Sasaki has a very good chance to come over as the #1 overall prospect the moment he arrives stateside.
Team: Orix, JPPL, NPB
MLB ETA: 2024
Ceiling: Top 15 prospect
While he doesn’t have the explosive stuff of Sasaki, it’s Yamamoto that has been the most effective pitcher in Japan this season overall (and for several years now). Still just 23 years old, Yamamoto, the Pacific League reigning MVP from 2021, will be the first of the three NPB players highlighted eligible to come to the US if current posting rules are adhered to. While Yamamoto can dial his heater up to the high 90’s, he typically works in the mid-90s with it, complemented by a devastating splitter, a cutter, and a curveball. While he has struck out more than 1 hitter per inning over the past three years, the 5’10, 170 lb. Yamamoto is more finesse when compared with Sasaki. His track record is largely unparalleled, however, and Yamamoto possesses a career 1.86 ERA and 0.937 WHIP in five seasons since turning pro at 18. I am reminded of Masahiro Tanaka by Yamamoto’s profile, but he may even be a bit better than that.
Jung Hoo Lee
Team: Kiwoom, KBO
MLB ETA: 2024
Ceiling: Top 25 prospect
If any of these players can become the “next Ichiro”, I would put my money on the Korean Jung Hoo Lee rather than anyone coming over from Japan. Lee comes from KBO bloodlines, the son of a former league MVP Jong Beom Lee. The younger Lee’s skills surpass those of his talented father, and Lee, who is just 23 years old, already has 5 full KBO seasons under his belt and a .339/.404/.487 career slash. This year, Lee has been showcasing developing power, and he has already set a new career single season high in home runs (19) and slugging (.553) with ~30 games still remaining in the season. Lee has superior reflexes and plate coverage, and has walked at a rate twice as high as his strikeout rate (51:25 BB:K ratio). While Lee doesn’t have the same speed on the basepaths that Ichiro possessed, he does have the makings of a remarkable MLB table-setter.
Lee is likely to post as soon as he is eligible, following the 2023 season, and is a pretty sure bet to debut near the higher end of prospect lists.
Baek Ho Kang
Team: KT, KBO
MLB ETA: 2024
Ceiling: Top 100 prospect
No other player discussed in this article has near the same level of boom or bust as Kang. Kang, who is the same age as Lee, has had an equally successful career since joining the KBO at the ripe age of 18, albeit with a very different approach. Unlike Lee’s controlled approach, Kang is known for possessing a violent swing that has helped him tap into extra power earlier in his career. Unfortunately, he has been sidelined for much of 2022 due to health issues, so we haven’t really been able to observe much of his recent development. However, Kang’s 2021 season was quite impressive – he slashed .345/.447/.521 with more walks (101) than strikeouts (85), a surprise given his aggressive approach.
Defensively Kang is limited to first base, which may impact his playing time. If Kang’s reflexes prove to be as strong against Major League arms as they are against KBO pitching, he could be one of the higher upside options here, though he clearly possesses the highest risk as well.
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Ross Jensen: @rossjensen12
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