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Orix Buffaloes star Yoshinobu Yamamoto has a sky-high ceiling in the MLB

An inside look at the MLB's next bidding war for an up-and-coming Japanese pitcher. PIC: Megan Briggs, GETTY IMAGES

Ichiro Suzuki was one of the most highly anticipated Japanese players to come to MLB. He had already established himself as an elite hitter and fielder in Japan, and there was significant excitement surrounding his arrival with the Seattle Mariners in 2001. His debut season in MLB was exceptional, and he quickly became a sensation, winning the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards.

Hideki Matsui, who Yankee fans affectionately know as "Godzilla," was a highly sought-after player when he made the move to MLB in 2003 to join the New York Yankees. He had a strong track record in Japan and was known for his power hitting. He went on to win a World Series MVP in 2009 among other accolades.

More recently, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, and Koji Uehara made similar jumps. Shohei Ohtani is obviously taking the world by storm, as one of the best that has ever played. Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Kaz Matsui are all looked upon fondly by their respective former teams.

Scouts and media alike are bullish on yet another Japanese export - Yoshinobu Yamamoto - who is set to hit the MLB free agency market this offseason.

Yamamoto, a 25-year-old starting pitcher for the Orix Buffaloes in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, has been the epitome of class this season. His World Baseball Classic appearance turned the heads of many, as he struck out 12 of the 27 batters he's faced. Yamamoto boasts a 1.26 ERA, striking out 145 and only allowing two big flies over the span of 143 innings. He took home the Sawamura Award for the NPB's best pitcher this year, as well as registering his second-career no-hitter just weeks ago.

It's taken some Japanese players time to adjust to pro baseball in the USA, but for others it's been second-nature. Of course, many believe that Yamamoto can go far in the MLB, but just how far remains to be universally agreed upon.

Yamamoto, a 5-10, 170-pound righty, can easily pump a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90's. Breaking balls include a nasty splitter and a sweeping curveball. Add in another solid breaking pitch and potentially another off-speed fastball, and you're looking at virtually unlimited potential. His ceiling could be as much as a number one starter in the MLB, according to many scouts.

With Yamamoto scheduled to hit the MLB free agency market this offseason, there are plenty of teams with deep pockets and in dire need of a starter. The Yankees could top this list, having a glaring need for starting pitching after Frankie Montas showing no sign of returning after injury, Domingo German's disciplinary situation being unclear, and on-and-off injuries from Carlos Rodon, Nestor Cortes, and a host of others. The Mets could be in play, after trading away Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander when things went south this season - especially with Japanese pitcher Kodai Senga saying he'd be willing to help recruit Yamamoto to New York. Of course, the Dodgers are always in play with their unwavering desire to spend money to win, and the Padres could be in desperation mode after an underachieving year. The Red Sox signed Daisuke Matsuzaka to block the Yankees or other division rivals from getting him & haunting them for years. Adam Duvall, James Paxton, Corey Kluber, and Justin Turner could all potentially walk, clearing up to $37 million in salary; it's fair to say that's a respectable AAV for Yamamoto from what we know now.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto is expected to break records for highest AAV for a Japanese player. One thing is for sure - we're about to see a bidding war.


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