The Cubs have agreed to a contract bringing Seiya Suzuki stateside from Japan, where he’s been among the best hitters in NPB going back to 2016, on a five-year, $85 million deal.
Suzuki is coming off a spectacular season of .317/.433/.639 with 38 home runs for the Hiroshima Carp, so fantasy owners have plenty to be excited about while dreaming about what he could do in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.
The ZiPS projection system has projections for Suzuki’s next five seasons, including a line for this season of .287/.351/.480, 23 HR, 12 SB, 81 R, 85 RBIs in 529 AB. Considering that ZiPS pretty much nailed their projection on Suzuki’s contract at five years, $83 million, we’ll take that as a reasonable expectation.
In redraft leagues, that projection would put him below Austin Meadows, above Trent Grisham and about on par with Kyle Schwarber in the outfield rankings. That would make Suzuki about a 10th-round pick in a 12-team mixed league.
As for where to put a player like that in the RotoProspects Top 500 Rankings, we have settled on No. 38, sandwiched between fellow outfielders Jasson Dominguez above and Jarren Duran below.
This is a perfect distillation of how to value prospects for dynasty leagues. Do you like older, more developed players ready for the majors, or younger, less-experienced prospects with years of development left.
Suzuki, by all accounts, arrives fully cooked at age 27, ready to step into the middle of a MLB lineup on the strength of eight years in NPB. Duran is 25 and is yet to establish himself in the majors, but has very little if any development left in the minors. Dominguez is just 19 and has flashed some of the vast potential that made him a household name in prospect circles, but will likely start 2022 back in Low-A in hopes of a better showing and quickening his ascent toward New York. Dominguez has the highest ceiling with more power potential than either Suzuki or Duran, but there’s a far greater array of possibilities for where his career goes. Duran has the most speed of the trio, but his hit tool lags and could prevent him from reaching his considerable ceiling.
Scouts have dropped the comp of A.J. Pollock, circa his prime with the D’backs at age 27 in 2015 until 2018. Pollock’s average fluctuated from .315 down to .257 in his three healthy seasons in that four-year range to go along with homer totals of 20, 14 and 21. Pollock’s stolen bases peaked at 39 in 2015 and were down to 13 by 2018. Suzuki stole 9 bases in 131 games last season, but had a high of 25 in 2019.
For dynasty purposes, the Pollock comp is fair warning, as his performance has become more inconsistent as he ages and his stolen bases have continued to slip. Pollock is ranked No. 194 in FantasyPros’ expert consensus rankings for this year, his age-34 season. ZiPS has Suzuki gradually declining over their five-year projections, landing at .278/.341/.466, 19 HR, 8 SB, 67 R, 71 RBIs in 2026.
If the Pollock comp turns out to be accurate, it shows how limited Suzuki’s ceiling is. Then again, if the baseball used in MLB in 2022 is anything like the one used the past few seasons, Suzuki could come in above those projections and approach 30 homers. There also could be a learning curve where Suzuki only hits 15 this season but then jumps to 30 next year.
That’s what happened when Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui came stateside in 2003 with the Yankees, following up a 50-homer NPB season with 16 homers for New York before jumping to 31 the next year. Matsui was already 29 when he came to MLB after 10 years in Japan’s top league, accumulating a .304 average there before a .282 in a 10-year MLB career. Suzuki has a career average of .315 in eight seasons in NPB, giving us good reason to believe he can reach that .287 ZiPS projection for this season.
Cubs fans are hoping Suzuki can do better than their team’s last big Japanese signing, Kosuke Fukudome, who came to Chicago in 2008 on a four-year, $48 million contract. Fukudome was already 31 years old, but never approached the type of power the Cubs thought they were getting, hitting 10, 11 and 13 homers in 2008-10 after having 31- and 34-homer seasons under his belt in Japan.
Suzuki’s profile looks a lot more like Matsui than Fukudome, especially in plate discipline. Over his past three seasons in NPB, Suzuki totaled 262 walks and 240 strikeouts in 389 games. In Matsui’s final three seasons in Japan, he totaled 340 walks and 308 strikeouts in 415 games. At the very least, Suzuki will be more valuable in OBP leagues than traditional batting average leagues.
Suzuki enters our Cubs prospect rankings at No. 2, behind just Brennen Davis, who is expected to join him in Chicago’s outfield by midseason.