Could Dodgers already be targeting Japanese phenom fast-tracking his way to MLB?

Stanford University
Stanford University / David Madison/GettyImages

The Dodgers are well on their way to becoming the most desirable destination for Japanese players coming over from NPB. Not only are Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto two of the best to ever come out of Japan, but the Dodgers have also had their eyes on 22-year-old pitching wonder Roki Sasaki since he was in high school and will likely make a play for him when he's posted. There are a host of other Japanese players the Dodgers could pursue, and LA has already captured the imaginations of millions of Japanese baseball fans.

However, there might be a Japanese player that the Dodgers could get in a more conventional way, one who will probably never play in NPB. Rintaro Sasaki, Japan's No. 1 high school prospect in 2023, who holds the record for home runs in a high school career with 140, is skirting NPB entirely by coming to the States for college. He'll enroll at Stanford University this year, play for the Cardinal starting in 2025, and be eligible for the MLB draft in 2027.

Dodgers should target Japanese phenom Rintaro Sasaki, draft-eligible in 2027

This has never been done before. The general rule of law in Japan is that the best high school players to go to NPB before being posted to MLB years down the line, if they're ever posted at all. When Ohtani was in high school, he announced his intention to go straight to the major leagues, but the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters drafted him anyway and he stayed in Japan to play for them.

However, Japanese players coming over to MLB is still a relatively new phenomenon — only 67 Japanese-born players have played in the major leagues, and 11 of them are active players. Sasaki is innovating here, and there's a chance that he could start up a wave of copycats among the best Japanese high school talents who have MLB aspirations. The geography of the Stanford campus and its proximity to Oracle Park could be a little worrying if the Dodgers already have him on their radar, but LA also still has to time lock up a few more NPB superstars to tempt him south if he continues to dominate throughout college. If this Sasaki continues to dominate, they'll just have to hope he falls towards the end of the first round.

Also important to note: Sasaki attended the same high school as Ohtani, and both were coached by his father, Hiroshi Sasaki (subscription required). If the Dodgers very successfully employed Ohtani to rope former WBC teammate Yoshinobu Yamamoto in, the influence he might have over a younger player with a personal connection could be enormous.