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Major League Baseball's offseason has been dominated by players who began their careers in either Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league or the Korea Baseball Organization. The Los Angeles Dodgers dropped more than $1 billion on two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani and right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto; the San Francisco Giants handed out a nine-figure deal to outfielder Jung Hoo Lee; and the San Diego Padres gave lefty closer Yuki Matsui a five-year pact

More Japanese and South Korean players could join their ranks ahead of the 2024 season, including starter Naoyuki Uwasawa and reliever Woo Suk Go.

It's clear that MLB teams are more willing to trust in, and more willing to spend on, foreign talents than at any other time in league history. That open-mindedness will, in turn, attract even more stars from overseas. Just who might that entail? Below, CBS Sports has highlighted three young NPB players worth monitoring over the coming years, including a few historic performers. 

Before we get to the players, let us offer a refresher on how this process works. Foreign teams are allowed to submit their player to the "posting system" -- MLB's "transfer portal," if you will -- whenever they choose. 

NPB and KBO teams often wait until after their players meet certain age and service-time requirements so they're no longer subject to MLB's spending limits on international amateur free agents. (For those with good memories, those rules are why Ohtani played for the league minimum to begin his MLB career.) The players are then allowed to negotiate as traditional free agents, with their former teams receiving a posting fee based on the player's contract:

  • Contract worth less than $25 million: 20% of contract value
  • Contract worth $25 million to $50 million: $5 million plus 17.5% of amount over $25 million
  • Contract worth more than $50 million: $9.275 million plus 15% of amount over $50 million

Got it? Good. Now, onto the important stuff. 

1. Roki Sasaki, RHP, Chiba Lotte Marines (22 years old)

Why is his name familiar? Sasaki made global headlines in April 2022, striking out 19 batters as part of NPB's first perfect game in 28 years. He flirted with more history in his next start by firing another eight perfect frames

What's his game? Sasaki has two massive offerings, an upper-90s rising fastball and a devastating splitter/forkball, and a shockingly good feel for throwing strikes based on his age and his stuff. He's struck out 34% of the batters he's faced as a professional, all the while walking just 5% of them. That 29% margin, for reference, would've ranked second in the majors in 2023, behind only Atlanta Braves flamethrower Spencer Strider. Sasaki does need to improve his durability. He was limited to 91 innings last year by an oblique injury, and to date he's cleared the century mark just once. Otherwise, Sasaki can rightly claim to already be one of the planet's most talented pitchers. 

When might he come over? It's anyone's guess at this point. The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this winter that Sasaki's contract was believed to include a clause that would force the Marines to post him for MLB consideration when he requested. (Ohtani had a similar clause in his NPB contract.) The exact parameters of that mechanism might be more complicated than they first appeared, given Sasaki reportedly asked the Marines to post him ahead of the Dec. 15 deadline. They did not. The Marines have millions and millions of reasons to hold off on posting Sasaki until winter 2026, when MLB's amateur international free-agent guidelines no longer limit his earning upside. If Sasaki's deal does possess the aforementioned clause, then he could theoretically arrive well before then -- perhaps even as soon as next offseason.

2. Munetaka Murakami, 3B, Yakult Swallows (23 years old)

Why is his name familiar? Murakami solidified himself in the NPB record books during the 2022 season. Not only did he become the youngest Triple Crown winner in league history, he shattered Sadaharu Oh's single-season home-run record for a Japanese-born player by launching 56 long balls

What's his game? Predictably, Murakami offers massive power from the left side. He's averaged 38 home runs over the last five seasons, and has finished with fewer than 30 just once. (He hit 28 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.) Murakami has also showcased strong on-base skills, walking more than 15% of the time last season alone. There are some drawbacks to his game. He's consistently posted alarmingly high strikeout rates (over 28% in 2023, when the league-average mark was 19.6%), and he's not a skilled defender at the hot corner, suggesting he'll end up sliding down the defensive spectrum.

When might he come over? Murakami signed a three-year pact with the Swallows last December that ensured he'll be posted after the 2025 season. MLB's international amateur free-agent guidelines will no longer apply to him at that point, potentially setting up Murakami and the Swallows for windfalls.

3. Shunpeita Yamashita, RHP, Orix Buffaloes (21 years old)

Why is his name familiar? Yamashita may not yet be a familiar name to those who don't subscribe to DeltaGraphs or follow Yakyu Cosmopolitan. He will be soon, given that he's the obvious successor to Sasaki in more ways than one.

What's his game? Watch the clip above from last season and you might be struck by how much Yamashita resembles a MLB starter. He's 6-foot-2 and strong; he features the kind of truncated arm action popularized by Lucas Giolito and Shane Bieber (among others); and he's already adept at playing the vertical game, elevating his mid-90s fastball over bats and burying his curveball below them. He threw a career-high 95 innings last season, punching out 26.4% of batters while walking less than 8% of them.

When might he come over? As with Sasaki and the Marines, it would behoove the Buffaloes to play the long game with Yamashita to ensure that they fetch as large of a posting fee as they can. That means you shouldn't expect to see Yamashita jump to MLB until after his age-25 season, or winter 2028.