These are the next two Japanese superstars who could find their way to Red Sox
Tomase: These are the next two Japanese stars who could find their way to Boston originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
American fans are already intimately familiar with Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, but the World Baseball Classic gave us the dream matchup when the two Angels teammates faced off to end the tournament.
The bigger question is which future stars might impact the United States down the line, and there are two names that Red Sox fans should be eying closely in the coming years.
The first is third baseman Munetaka Murakami. The slugging 23-year-old woke up at the end of the WBC, delivering the booming walk-off double to beat Mexico in the semifinals, and then a monster solo homer in the finals to help defeat the United States.
A solid block of muscle at 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, Murakami is already rewriting the record books in Japan. A triple crown winner and back-to-back MVP with the Yakult Swallows, Murakami broke one of Japan's most revered records last year when he slammed 56 homers, eclipsing the previous mark of 55 held by the incomparable Sadaharu Oh.
He's one of the nation's biggest stars, but his days overseas have an expiration date. A clause in his contract stipulates that he must be posted to Major League Baseball after the 2025 season, when he'll be 25 years old, and the bidding could be massive.
Though the Red Sox have their third baseman locked up for at least a decade in Rafael Devers, Murakami can also play first base or DH, which means he's a name to remember. His left-handed power is reminiscent of countryman Hideki Matsui, who produced four 100-RBI seasons with the Yankees in the early 2000s.
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On the pitching side, a prospect generating even more excitement who remains even further away is right-handed phenom Roki Sasaki. He roared into the public consciousness last season by following a 19-strikeout perfect game with eight more perfect innings and 14 Ks.
The 21-year-old announced himself on the world's stage with staggering stuff at the WBC. Against Mexico, 26 of his 29 fastballs topped 100 mph, and it wasn't even his best pitch. That honor goes to his splitter, a fall-off-the-table offering that has been known to drop batters to their knees as they corkscrew into the ground.
Unlike Murakami, Sasaki has no language stipulating his arrival in the major leagues, but it's widely assumed that he'll wait until he's 25, in 2027, to avoid the Japanese posting system as an international free agent. He has called pitching in the majors his dream, and there's little doubt that teams will be lined up to sign him, as long as he stays healthy.
He is already considered the best young pitcher in the world, and the WBC did little to curb anyone's appetite. The Red Sox have signed Japanese players twice under Chaim Bloom, including WBC star Masataka Yoshida, and whether or not he's still calling the shots in three years, Murakami and Sasaki should remain on Boston's radar.