Who is Rintaro Sasaki? Why Japanese power-hitting phenom plans to play college baseball in U.S.

The posting agreement between MLB and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) can complicate the timeline for Japanese stars who want to play in the U.S. 17-year-old Rintaro Sasaki is looking to bypass the system altogether.

Sasaki announced Tuesday that he intends to play baseball at an American college after choosing not to enter his name in the NPB Draft, where he was expected to be the No. 1 overall pick. 

It’s a bold decision by Sasaki, as even the youngest phenoms to make the leap from Japan to the U.S. didn’t go the route of bypassing professional baseball in Japan. Shohei Ohtani came over to the American at just 23 years old, but he had a brief NPB career before being posted.

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Here’s what you need to know about Sasaki, his college decision, and his MLB outlook.

Who is Rintaro Sasaki?

Sasaki is a 6-0, 250-pound first baseman who holds the record for most home runs by a high school hitter in Japan with 140.

His dominant high school career made him the consensus favorite to be selected first in the next NPB Draft, but his decision to attend college in America and jump to the majors from there will prevent him from having to go through what can be a complicated posting system.

Sasaki attends Hanamaki-Higashi High School, which Ohtani also attended when he was an emerging baseball star.

ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel reports that Sasaki has “70-grade raw power,” which projects to a 30-home run hitter at the major-league level. With that being said, McDaniel added that Sasaki generally faced pitchers who threw a fastball in the mid-80s in high school, so it’s unclear how he will fare against some of America’s best young flamethrowers.

Sasaki doesn’t seem to be afraid of finding out. As he pursues a collegiate career in the U.S., some of the most prominent baseball programs in the nation could be in the mix for his talents.

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Rintaro Sasaki stats

Sasaki’s exact high school stats aren’t clear, but it’s been widely reported that he hit 140 home runs at the high school level. That’s 29 more than the previous record of 111 by Kotaro Kiyomiya. 

With that kind of raw power at such a young age, it’s no surprise Sasaki was expected to be the top pick in the NPB Draft. Instead, it appears he will be taking his talents to the U.S. in hopes of joining an MLB organization in 2027.

Where will Rintaro Sasaki play college baseball?

According to ESPN, “industry chatter” indicates Vanderbilt is an early leader for Sasaki.

The Commodores are perennially one of the nation’s most stable college baseball programs and have produced numerous major-leaguers over the last two decades, including David Price, Sonny Gray and Dansby Swanson.

It still seems to be early in the process for Sasaki, so it’s possible other prominent programs — including some SEC rivals of Vanderbilt — get involved in recruiting a hitter who could be one of college baseball’s most exciting bats.

When is Rintaro Sasaki eligible for the MLB Draft?

If Sasaki does attend an American college, he will be eligible to enter the MLB Draft in 2027.

High schoolers are able to enter the MLB Draft, but once they go to a four-year college, they must wait three years before becoming eligible again. If Sasaki starts his collegiate career during the 2024-25 school year, as expected, he will have completed three years by the 2027 MLB Draft.

Had Sasaki entered the NPB Draft, he likely would not have been made available to MLB teams until the 2030s. 

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