At a time in their long and storied history when the Chicago Cubs had been reducing payroll, the team signed Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki in free-agency.
The amount of Suzuki’s contract is surprising.
At the age of 27, the right-handed hitting Suzuki left the Hiroshima Carp after nine seasons playing for the Nippon Professional Baseball in the Japan Western League. He signed a five-year, $85M contract with the Cubs. His contract includes a no-trade clause. In MLB history, it is the largest contract ever given a Japanese position player.
The Cubs paid a $14.625M posting fee to the Carp for the right to sign Suzuki.
It was widely reported that the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and the Chicago Cubs wanted to sign Suzuki. The Cubs became Suzuki’s choice.
While he wasn’t surrounded by the same buzz when he came to Major League Baseball as Japan’s Shohei Ohtani, the excitement surrounding Suzuki has been increasing and is well earned.
Suzuki has a very well-proportioned, 5-11, 216 pound frame. He has developed strength and depth to his body with extensive strength and conditioning work.
About Seiya Suzuki:
Seiya Suzuki was a five-time All Star for Nippon. He won five Mitsui Golden Glove Awards, the term used in Japanese baseball for their best defensive players.
During his high school days, Suzuki pitched, and was drafted in the second round of the 2012 Nippon Professional Baseball Draft. He then switched to playing the infield.
Suzuki was converted to the outfield by the Carp prior to 2015. The Cubs signed him as a right fielder, and because of his incredibly strong and accurate arm, that’s where he will likely remain.
Suzuki’s value to Major League Baseball clubs skyrocketed following his 2021 season in Japan. He hit 38 home runs, drove in 88 runs and scored 77 runs in his 539 plate appearances for the Carp. He hit .317/.433/.636/1.069 with only 89 strikeouts.
This old scout got several looks at Suzuki while he was playing with the Cubs in spring training.
He didn’t play right away, but he did get 20 plate appearances.
It took a while for Suzuki to become comfortable during his spring appearances. He played seven games and hit .235 with two home runs, both witnessed by this writer.
Suzuki At The Plate:
During spring training, there were striking aspects to Suzuki’s game that were very obvious. To begin, as opposed to Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui, both great hitters who used more traditional Japanese hitting styles and techniques, Seiya Suzuki has a more traditional “American” swing at the plate.
During conversations, his “American” style swing was the most often mentioned aspect of his mechanics noted to this writer by scouts watching him hit.
To this scout, Suzuki showed outstanding bat control. He studied the pitcher and was very aware of how the pitcher tried to get him out. His patience, his contact rate, and his ability to barrel the ball were very obvious skills that have been refined with experience.
Fast-forward to the start of the season:
As the Championship season began, using superb eye-hand coordination, Suzuki rarely, if ever, chased pitches out of the strike zone. He rarely swung and missed. He rarely got himself out. And more often than not, Suzuki took pitchers deeply into counts. He was a very tough customer at the plate.
Suzuki won the National League Player of the Week Award in the first week of the season. He was a hitting machine… until. Until pitchers began to learn how to get him out.
That’s a very normal course of events in big league baseball.
Now, patience will be required. The team and Suzuki will have to work hard to combat the opposition research he is facing.
The word spreads. Baseball personnel watch video. They found areas of Suzuki’s hitting approach to exploit. Pitchers began to make adjustments when facing Suzuki.
Suzuki’s current challenge is to counter those adjustments with his own hitting refinements.
After a great start to his season, Suzuki endured a 17-plate appearance hitless streak, something that would frustrate most big league hitters. But he has been battling back. A big RBI double off Milwaukee Brewers Cy Young Award winning Corbin Burnes broke the skid on May 2.
Still, Suzuki’s hitting mechanics are being tested. He is showing signs of inconsistency making contact.
As of the end of play May 4, 2022, in his 95 plate appearances in his first 24 Cubs games, Suzuki has struck out 27 times. To this observer, that won’t be a lingering issue. He and his coaches will work on his adjustments. He has walked 14 times.
In spring training, not only did Suzuki show this scout his ability to make contact and hit for a solid high batting average, he also flashed true power from disciplined hitting mechanics. He used his wrists, his forearms and his entire body in perfect coordination during his swing. His power appeared to be natural.
To date, half of Suzuki’s hits have been demonstrations of his power and speed. Suzuki already has six doubles and four home runs among his 20 hits. But now he is struggling a bit at the plate.
Suzuki on Defense:
A true five-tool player, Suzuki hits for average, and hits for power. But he also plays tremendous defense.
Suzuki’s speed and quickness impact his game on both sides of the ball. He can steal a base or take an extra base on hits to the gap. He can also chase down fly balls in the outfield.
Suzuki takes proper routes in right field, and his arm strength and accuracy are well above average, bordering on elite.
Suzuki has the ability to win games with his bat, with his glove and with his legs.
Watching Suzuki play right field, it is very obvious that he anticipates plays and uses a complete knowledge of baseball fundamentals in his approach. It appears that he has a very high “baseball IQ” with natural instincts, and outstanding athletic abilities.
Seiya Suzuki was signed this offseason as a Japanese international free-agent by the Chicago Cubs.
As noted by fangraphs.com, The Cubs will be paying the 27-year-old outfielder $8M this season as part of the team’s estimated $144M 2022 team payroll. The dynamic, five-tool player will get more expensive as his contract and career stateside unfolds.
The Cubs will be paying Suzuki $18M in 2023, $21M in 2024, $19M in 2025, and $19M in 2026.
As this writer has witnessed so far, Suzuki has the ability to positively impact a game with his powerful and well disciplined hitting tools, his well above average defensive abilities and arm strength in right field, and his game-changing speed.
Hitting for average-check
Hitting for power-check
At a time when the Chicago Cubs had been reducing payroll, the team was clearly in need of a star player. They had not replaced Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber or Anthony Rizzo, four high-profile, solid offensive players who left the team in the recent past. Now they have a potential star in Japanese free-agent outfielder Seiya Suzuki.
Inconsistency has entered Suzuki’s plate appearances. Pitchers are making adjustments to exploit “holes” they may find in his mechanics. He has to battle back and make his own refinements.
It remains too soon in the season to declare Suzuki an All Star. However, he has begun the stateside portion of his professional baseball career as a talented player capable of helping lead his new team to a brighter future.
However, given some recent hiccups in his offensive performance, patience will be required in an effort to bring all of Suzuki’s skills to the forefront.