Roki Sasaki Gives A Sneak Peek Of His Stuff

Image credit: Roki Sasaki (Getty Images)

MIAMI — Everyone loves a sneak preview or an early release of a highly anticipated movie or product. In the second semifinal of the World Baseball Classic one of the most highly touted Japanese pitchers made his North American debut against Team Mexico. 

Starter Roki Sasaki pitched an electric first inning, sitting down Mexican baseball folk hero Randy Arozarena to begin the game. Sasaki touched 101.8 in the final pitch of the at-bat as Arozarena swang through the pitch for strike three. He hit 101.7 mph in the next at-bat as he induced a flyball to left field from Alex Verdugo. Sasaki closed out the first by striking out Joey Meneses on three straight splitters. 

Mexico made plenty of contact off of Sasaki in the second, putting four balls in play and collecting a pair of hits from Isaac Paredes and Luis Urias. Sasaki then went right after Alan Trejo with four consecutive 100 mph fastballs, the last of which Trejo hit into an inning-ending double play. 

In the third Sasaki went to his secondaries time and time again, sitting down Alek Thomas, Austin Barnes and Randy Arozarena in order. In the inning Sasaki threw 12 pitches and only four of them were fastballs. 

In the fourth Sasaki began the inning by retiring the first two batters he faced, striking out Alex Verdugo and getting Joey Meneses to fly out to left field. Then things came off the rails. First Rowdy Tellez singled on a softly hit ground ball that snuck through to left field. The next batter, Isaac Paredes, dropped a flare behind third baseman Munetaka Murakami. With runners on first and second, Sasaki hung a pitch to Luis Urias, who took the pitch to the left field bullpen for a three-run home run. Sasaki sat down the next batter, Alan Trejo, to escape the inning before any further damage was done. 

On the day Sasaki showed his promise and lit up the radar gun with premium velocity. He hit 100 mph or higher on his fastball 26 times on the night, showing impressive velocity for a starter. Four of his five hits allowed came against 100-plus mph fastballs, but they were also a testament to how weak contact can sometimes find a hole. The exit velocities for all four of those hits were very pedestrian: 86.5 mph, 75.4, 76.9 and 57.4. The batting average in 2022 in MLB on balls with an exit velocity between 57-86 mph was .218.

There was some ambiguity with the marking of his secondaries, however. The stadium and other ball tracking devices were stringing three different pitches as cutters. A majority of those pitches marked cutters were actually splitters—a low-90s gyro splitter with some slight cut, an upper-80s sweeper and a low-90s cutter. It’s an interesting profile as the splitter is volatile, sometimes cutting slightly and other times staying truer with changeup-like movement. It gives Sasaki a standout secondary offering and one he can manipulate. 

All in all it was a strong showing for Sasaki, but there were some areas of needed improvement if he’s to meet the lofty expectations placed on him. While his fastball was hit, that’s likely not his greatest area of deficiency. That’s instead his lack of a true above-average breaking ball. This will be a key area of development if Sasaki is looking to find success stateside. His lower-spin slider is inconsistent and his cutters tend not to have a tremendous amount of cut. If he can find a true breaking ball shape with consistent bite, he has an opportunity to develop into a top-of-the-rotation type of arm when he comes stateside. 

For one night only we got an advanced screening. 

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