With Masataka Yoshida now in Boston, some of NPB’s best young hitters like Munetaka Murakami may join him soon.
The NPB has been home to a couple of former MLB All-Stars such as Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Shohei Ohtani, with great talents like Seiya Suzuki and Masataka Yoshida coming stateside in the past 2 years, the demand for Japan’s best hitters has never been higher.
Although there are a couple of older candidates who are eligble to be posted sooner, i wanted to take a look at a younger demographic of NPB Hitters, specifically those under 25-years old.
This is my Top 15 Best Young Hitters in NPB . You can find the Starting Pitchers version here.
The Qualifiers are:
- Player must have NPB experience
- Player must be under the age of 25 as of December 1st 2022.
Disclaimer: Most of these hitters will not play in MLB, “MLB Comp” is my comparsion with an MLB player regarding the ranked players NPB ability.
15. 1B Pedro Revilla (23), Chunichi Dragons
The only foreigner on this list, Pedro Revilla is an exciting prospect from Cuba, the 23-year-old is part of the established pipeline of Cuban players and the Dragons, who currently employ 8 cuban players throughout their system.
The young slugger hit 26 HRs in 2021 in the Cuban National Series, leading the league while being 9 years younger than the average player.
His Dragons tenure has started off slow, posting a .203/.277/.281 slashline in just 66 plate appearances in his NPB rookie year, but it was good to see he got experience with the top team.
His role could expand in 2023, and he will eventually have to replace fellow star countryman, Cuban slugger Dayan Viciedo as the Dragons cleanup hitter.
14. SS Kotaro Kurebayashi (20), Orix Buffaloes
The everyday shortstop for the championship winning Orix Buffaloes, Kurebayashi had an unremarkable year at the plate, posting a .224/.275/.318 slashline with just 6 HR over 494 PAs.
The Buffaloes still have high hopes for the 20 year old, a 2nd round pick in 2019 and standing at 6’1 185lbs, he has a big frame for a Japanese SS, don’t be surprised if he takes the next step and becomes atleast an average hitter in 2023.
13. 1B/DH Kotaro Kiyomiya (23), Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
One of the most hyped NPB hitting prospects in the last decade, Kotaro Kiyomiya was seen as a slam dunk selection for any team that got the fortunes to win his negotiation rights in the 2017 NPB Draft, in which 7(!) teams picked him in the first round, with the Fighters winning the sweepstakes.
The hype was warranted, as Kiyomiya set the Japanese high school home run record, by hitting 111 homers over 3 years.
Once Kiyomiya went pro, everything changed, he has spent his first 4 years of his career struggling mightily, not posting a single season with an OPS over .700 in NPB, and splitting his time between the big club and ni-gun (farm team).
Fortunately for Kiyomiya, new manager and former MLB outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo gave him confidence and an assurance of an everyday role for the rebuilding Fighters, and the 23 year old showed improvement, finishing with 18 HR and a 121WRC+, while being named All Star Game MVP.
It has been a tough road for the high school phenom, but it seems that he is finally found his footing in NPB, and he still has time to meet his lofty expectations.
12. SS Hideki Nagaoka (21), Tokyo Yakult Swallows
The Central League counterpart to Kotaro Kurebayashi, Hideki Nagaoka is another young shortstop who was part of the Japan Series finalist Swallows.
Nagaoka was the recipient of a Golden Glove in 2022, capping off a an impressive rise after logging just 23 PAs and a single hit in the past 2 years for the Swallows.
The 2019 5th round pick managed a .241/.273/.337 line while hitting 9HR over 548 plate appearances, which sounds unremarkable but when you factor that Nagaoka plays a premium position at an elite level, it makes him a very valuable role player.
Questions about his ceiling as a player are warranted, as Nagaoka is just 5’8 160lbs, and doesn’t have a strong propsect pedigree like most players here, but he is already a capable everyday starter for a contending team, and that deserves merit.
11. RF Chusei Mannami (22), Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
Bombs and strikeouts, strikeouts and bombs, that was pretty much how Chusei Mannami’s NPB career has gone so far.
The 6’3 210lbs half Congolese outfielder has showcased glimpses of his tremendous talent ever since being selected in the 4th round by the Fighters in 2018.
In just 451 PAs over two seasons, Mannami has managed to hit a rather impressive 19HR, although it isn’t enough to overshadow his barren .200/.234/.392 slashline, which looks terrible, but it gives him a 85WRC+, not great but it is an acceptable floor for a player as extreme as Mannami.
Mannami’s defense has also graded out as a plus in right field, you can reasonably compare him to what Joey Gallo does in MLB. Both are categorized as three true outcome hitters who can bring consistent value on the field.
If Mannami can cut his 37% strikeout rate and just put the barrel on the ball more often like he has done at the ni-gun level, he could become a dangerous hitter.
10. 1B/OF Koki Yamaguchi (22), Chiba Lotte Marines
The Marines unfortunately didn’t have much to celebrate when it comes to team success, finishing 5th in the Pacific League with a 69-73-1 record, but what they did do was give ample opportunities to a rising young core of talented prospects.
Koki Yamaguchi burst onto the scene in 2022 by hitting 16HR in just 349PA, mostly as the right-handed side of an outfield platoon.
The former 4th round pick figures to get a bigger role, with foreign stars Leonys Martin and Brandon Laird departing, it wouldn’t be surprising if Yamaguchi took one of the spots vacated in the lineup.
9. 3B Yuki Nomura (22), Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
Flying mostly under the radar so far in his young NPB career, Yuki Nomura is a name people should be aware in the near future.
The Fighters 3B had a solid .271/.313/.411 line in 2022, a step above in production compared to most of the player’s mentioned so far.
Despite having been a productive bat so far in his career and playing for the rebuilding Fighters, Nomura hasn’t seen major playing time yet, having failed to ecplise 400PA in his 3-year NPB career.
His defense is slighty worrying by just looking at the basic numbers, posting a .931 fielding percentage at 3B, and has graded out as a negative according to Rdef on NPBstats.com so the decision to give him reps at 1B or DH could prove wise for manager Big Boss Shinjo.
8. SS Kaito Kozono (22), Hiroshima Carp
The 22-year old Kozono is the starting shortstop for the Carp and the counterpart to now 10x Golden Glove winner 2B Ryosuke Kikuchi who compensates for Kozono’s defensive inefficiency at SS.
At the plate Kozono has shown solid contact skills, posting a .298/.320/.399 slashline in 2021, before starting off slow in 2022 but still finishing with a respectable .662 OPS and 88WRC+.
A reason for those early struggles was that Kozono was used as a cleanup hitter, batting 3rd in the lineup for manager Shinji Sasaoka, Kozono’s contact first approach didn’t fit and he improved once he moved down in the lineup.
As a former first round pick in 2018, Kozono’s talent is still largely untapped, and a .300 batting average combined with 15+ homers is in play.
7. 3B Hisanori Yasuda (23), Chiba Lotte Marines
Five years after being drafted in the 1st round, Hisanori Yasuda has established himself in the Marines lineup.
After being a regular in the Marines lineup since 2019, Yasuda has finally showed signs of an above average hitter, posting a .263/.343/.397 slalshline, good for a .740 OPS and a 122WRC+ in 2022.
The Osaka born Yasuda mans 3rd base for the Marines, where he is a bit below average defensively, but he has also spent time at 1B and could be seen as a replacement for longtime foreign star Brandon Laird, who left this year.
If he can add more power to his game with his 6’2 210lbs frame, Yasuda has the potential to be an All-Star for years to come.
6. OF Akito Takabe (24), Chiba Lotte Marines
Doing his best Juan Pierre impersonation, Akito Takabe came out of nowhere and became one of the league’s best speed demons, stealing 44 bases in 137 games, leading the Pacific League and doubling the total of 2nd place Ukyo Shuto.
Takabe posted an ok .274/.324/.342 line, good for a 97WRC+, his value came mostly from dominating the basepaths, as he was graded as the most valuable baserunner by Rbsr on NPBStats.com. He finished 2022 with 3.2WAR.
He also won his first gold glove in 2022, even though his defense was seen as a slight negative by Rdef, becoming an undisputed starter for the Marines after logging just 80PA’s the previous two years.
This sudden rise also lead to his first All-Star nod, deserved since his value goes past his average .666 OPS, he is a fun player and should be the Marines leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future.
5. OF Yuki Okabayashi (20), Chunichi Dragons
Yuki Okabayashi still hasn’t hit a homerun in the NPB.
In fact, he actually hasn’t hit a single professional homerun since being drafted in the 5th round of the 2019 NPB Draft by the Chunichi Dragons, despite having 1185 professional plate appearances.
He is more likely to get his first HR by hitting an inside the park HR, having been 90 feet away from home plate 10 times due to leading the league in triples.
Despite having zero power at the plate, Okabayashi ranked as the 8th most valauable player in NPB with 4.7WAR.
Okabayashi is an anomaly that is perfectly suited for the pitcher friendly Nagoya Dome, his game revolves around good contact skills (.291AVG), speed (24 SB) and elite defense (13.0 Rdef).
Just 20 years old, Okabayashi is projected to move into CF in 2023, switching positions with veteran OF Yohei Oshima.
4. OF/3B Teruaki Sato (23), Hanshin Tigers
One of the most hyped NPB prospects in recent memory, Teruaki Sato is already one of the best all around players in Japan.
Sato came to fame mostly due to his power, hitting 14 bombs and winning MVP in his final collegiate season, becoming a contested first round selection in the 2020 NPB Draft by the Tigers.
With an MLB-esque approach to hitting, Sato usually likes to sell out for power in exchange for a low average, but he seems to have found his balance in 2022, hitting 20 HR over 603PA while holding a .264/.328/.470 line, good for a 131WRC+ and 4.4WAR.
After striking out on 38% of his ABs in 2021, Sato struck out just 22.7% in 2022, a significant improvement but he could still stand to walk more (8.5BB%).
Despite still not having a definitive position on the field, it doesn’t matter where Sato plays, because he is an electric presence and the face of the Tigers for years to come.
3. 3B/C Shogo Sakakura (24), Hiroshima Carp
Already the best hitter in Hiroshima, Shogo Sakakura has become one of the most complete players in Japan.
Sakakura was a 4th round pick in 2016, and he only became a regular in the Carp’s lineup in 2021, where he went off, posting a superb .315/.390/.467 line, while accruing 4.7WAR.
2022 was also a sucess, with Sakakura playing every game and hitting 16 bombs for a 125WRC+ while mostly playing 3B.
Due to the Central League still not allowing the DH rule, Sakakura still doesn’t have a real position, brought up as a catcher, but spent 2021 at 1B and 2022 at 3B primarly. The addition of foreign 3B Matt Davidson should solidify Sakakura’s return to catching.
2. 2B Shugo Maki (24), Yokohama DeNa Baystars
Built like a wrecking ball, Shugo Maki hits like one too.
The 24-year old Maki has established himself as one of the most feared hitters in Japan since debuting in 2021.
Over his short but impressive 2 year career in NPB, Maki has a .302/.355/.507 career slashline batting cleanup for the Baystars.
Despite being built like a first baseman, the 5’10 210lbs Maki with his “doughy” physique has been able to stay at 2B, and even grading out as average in advanced metrics.
I don’t really believe his best fit is at 2B though, but as long as he keeps hitting like he has it doesn’t really matter where you put him.
1. 3B Munetaka Murakami (22), Tokyo Yakult Swallows
The best player in NPB, you could write a book on how good Munetaka Murakami is.
If you follow the NPB, you already know how special Murakami is, the still only 22-year old has been a monster in the Swallows lineup since 2019 and after winning MVP in 2021 he went super-saiyan in 2022.
Murakami’s 2022 campaign was nothing short of historic, hitting 56HR for the most HR’s ever by a Japanese player in a single season, surpassing Sadaharu Oh’s 55 in 1964.
He also won the batting Triple Crown in 2022, hitting an insane .318/.458/.710 for an 1.168 OPS and 221WRC+ while amassing 10.2WAR.
Predictably enough, Murakami was the unanimous 2022 CL MVP, the first unanimous selection by a hitter since Sadaharu Oh in 1977.
In the offseason, Murakami signed a monster 3-year deal with the Swallows that pays him 600M yen per year or 4.5M USD, and after the contract expires the Swallows are obliged to post him to MLB.
Murakami is expected to sign the largest contract in international free agency history in the 2025 MLB Offseason.