Many star players have found new homes in the days since the end of the MLB owner’s lockout and the ratification of a new CBA, and there are still quite a few big names waiting to be signed – or exchanged! But one of the hot stove’s biggest moves happened on Wednesday, and it involved a player whose name you might not know…yet: Seiya Suzuki. But Fantasy Baseball players will want to get to know him over the next few weeks as they prepare for their 2022 draft. Suzuki has agreed to a five-year contract with the Cubs, and here’s what you need to know about him. former Hiroshima star Toyo Carp.
Suzuki is 27 (he’ll be 28 on August 18), so he’s still in his prime, and he’s coming to MLB after a stellar career in Nippon Professional Baseball. He was a four-time All-Star NPB and a three-time Gold Glover, which gives you an idea of the type of player we’re looking for here. He has a well-rounded skill set, with 102 career stolen bases and a .309/.402/.541 triple slash line to go along with that excellent outfield defense.
And, it’s worth noting that he did it while playing in a park that was pretty hard to hit, especially for power. Based on park factor data for NPB stadiums, Mazda Stadium in Hiroshima has a home run factor of 0.77 – the second worst in the league. Suzuki’s 38 career home runs in 134 games in 2021 look even more impressive in this context, as does his pace of 37.4 home runs per 162 games since 2016, his breakout season. The fact that he managed this while consistently stealing bases and striking out just 15.3% of his career time — including 88 walks for 89 strikeouts in 2021 — makes him all the more impressive.
Of course, you can’t just take what Suzuki did at NPB and expect it to repeat it in the majors; as good as Shohei Ohtani is, he has yet to match the .322/.416/.588 line he had in his 21-year-old season in Japan. The level of competition in the NPB is very high – the highest of any non-MLB affiliated league in the world, no doubt – but it’s not uniformly the quality of the major leagues. You’re probably talking about a level of competition somewhere between Triple-A and MLB, according to most talent evaluators, and you can see that in the ZiPS projection for Suzuki in a neutral park versus its 2021 numbers:
- 2021: .317/.433/.636, 38HR, 9SB
- ZIPS: .281/.351/.480, 23HR, 12SB
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He’s still a very solid attacking player, even if not the superstar-level player his box-level stats might indicate. There’s a risk beyond that, obviously – it’s not just about the level of competition, but several unknown factors about how a player will adapt to life in a new city and a new country, not to mention a new league.
But there are also likely benefits here beyond that projection. What if he ends up maintaining above-average contact rates and above-average power and ends up looking more like a 30 homer guy? Wrigley Field is a fairly neutral offensive environment for right-handed hitters, so it shouldn’t hold back potential.
All in all, I think Suzuki is a pretty exciting fantastic prospect, someone you should be looking for as a starting caliber option. For me, that means putting him as the number 34 outfielder, just ahead of Jarred Kelenic, and that was a conscious decision. Like Suzuki, Kelenic carries some risk in his profile with plenty of upside as a potential five-category contributor as well. Kelenic might have more upside, but as its 2021 debut has shown us, there is also considerable downside risk. Looks like a perfect target for the 10th round.
That might end up being too high for many of you – it’s definitely higher than his current ADP of 190 in total. But that price will go up now that he’s signed. It’s not a perfect landing spot on a rebuilding Cubs roster, but if Suzuki ends up being a power/speed threat, that matters less. Either way, it’s definitely a name you need to know by now.