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International Free Agent Profile: Seiya Suzuki

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The Hiroshima Toyo Carp will be posting five-time All-Star outfielder Seiya Suzuki. Does he make sense for the Mets?

United States v Japan - Baseball Gold Medal Game - Olympics: Day 15
Seiya Suzuki
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Seiya Suzuki was born August 18, 1994 in Arakawa City, a special municipality within the northeastern portion of Tokyo. He attended Nishogakusha High School and while his power stood out, he emerged as the staff ace in the fall of his first year on the strength of his fastball, which touched 92 MPH. The school participated in the annual Spring and Summer Koshien competitions, but Nishogakusha High School never took home a championship while Suzuki was there.

In 2012, during the Nippon Professional Baseball Draft Conference, the right-hander was drafted by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. The class of 2012 was particularly loaded- pitchers Shintaro Fujinami, Tomoyuki Sugano, and Shohei Ohtani were available, as were less heralded hurlers Yasuhiro Ogawa and Nao Higashihama- and Suzuki did not hear his name called until the second round. Yoshinari Ogata, the Carp scout who evaluated and recommended the team select him, saw more promise in the youngster as a position player than a pitcher and Suzuki agreed. He would sign with the team on the condition that he receive a ¥60 million (roughly $750,800) contract bonus, a first-year salary of ¥6 million (roughly $75,000, almost double from the NPB minimum), be allowed to play as an position player rather than a pitcher, and wear the number 51, “a longing for him from a young age” due to its association with a baseball great who, though unrelated, shared the same surname.

Suzuki spent the majority of the 2013 season playing for the Carp’s ni-gun team in the Western League, developing not only his bat but his fielding skills as well. By mid-September, with the Carp straddling .500 and nearly 20 games behind the first place Yomiuri Giants, team executives wanted to give Suzuki a taste of the big leagues and on September 14, the third baseman/shortstop/outfielder made his major league debut. In the 11 games he appeared in, he logged just one hit in 12 at-bats but he made his one hit count, as he also drove in his first batter with it.

In 2014, the 19-year-old once again spent the majority of the season on the ni-gun team but was able to force himself onto the Carp’s major league team and flourish, appearing in 36 games towards the end of the season and hitting .344/.382/.500 with 1 home run. In 2015, the Carp changed his official position registration from infielder to outfielder, and Suzuki started Hiroshima’s season as their opening day right fielder, a role he held onto for the entire season. In 97 games, he hit .275/.329/.403 with 5 home runs, 6 stolen bases in 13 attempts, and 16 walks to 38 strikeouts.

His 2016 season would start out on a bad note, as a hamstring sprain sustained at the end of spring training would delay the start of his season, but the year would be one that would be memorable for the outfielder and the Carp, as the perennial losers came out of nowhere to dominate the Central League. Appearing in 129 games, the 21-year-old Seiya Suzuki hit .335/.404/.612, slugging 29 home runs, stealing 16 bases in 27 attempts and drawing 53 walks to 79 strikeouts. Along with standout seasons from Ryosuke Kikuchi, who led the Central League with 181 hits, and veteran slugger Takahiro Arai, who won Central League Most Valuable Player honors, the Carp went 89-52-2, losing in the Japan Series to Nippon Ham Fighters. For his efforts, Suzuki won a Gold Glove as well as a Best Nine Award.

Impressed by the emergence of his power, Carp manager Koichi Ogata began batting Suzuki in the cleanup spot in 2017, putting less pressure on gaijin slugger Brad Eldred, and both players responded well. Eldred slugged more home runs and increased his walk rate as by roughly 3% as compared to 2016, while Suzuki hit a healthy .300/.389/.547 with 26 home runs, 16 stolen bases in 22 attempts, and 62 walks to 80 strikeouts. Unfortunately, his season ended early, as he sustained a hairline fracture in his right fibula just above the ankle after making a jumping catch in mid-August, an injury that required surgery. While the Carp won the Central League with an 88-51-4, Suzuki’s presence may have made a difference in the playoffs, as Hiroshima lost in the Final Stage of the 2017 Central League Climax Series to the Yokohama DeNA BayStars four games to two. Despite missing the final month of the season and the playoffs, Suzuki won his second consecutive Gold Glove and Best Nine Award.

The 23-year-old was full healed and ready for the start of the 2018 season at the end of March but was quickly put on the disabled list a few games into the season with lower body stiffness. He showed no lingering effects after he returned in mid-April, hitting .320/.438/.618 in 124 games with 30 home runs, 4 stolen bases in 8 attempts, and 88 walks to 116 strikeouts. With an 82-59-2 record, Hiroshima won the Central League and faced the Yomiuri Giants in the Final Stage of the 2018 Central League Climax Series. They handily dispatched the Kyojin with a clean sweep but lost in the 2018 Japan Series to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, who won their fourth championship in five years (and would go on to win in 2019 and 2020 as well). Suzuki won his third consecutive Best Nine Award at the conclusion of the season but was not named a Gold Glove Award winner in the outfield, with Chunichi Dragons outfielders Yohei Oshima and Ryosuke Hirata and two-time Central League MVP Yoshihiro Maru being awarded the three spots.

The 2019 season was a career best for Suzuki. Appearing in 140 games, he hit .335/.453/.565 with 28 home runs, 25 stolen bases in 41 attempts, and drawing 103 walks to 81 strikeouts, establishing career highs in virtually every offensive category and leading the NPB in batting average and on-base percentage. Despite his success, the Carp themselves were a .500 team, going 70-70-3 and falling to fourth place in the Central League. Suzuki was still recognized for his individual standout performance, winning his fourth consecutive Best Nine Award and once again finding himself a recipient of the Golden Glove Award after the conclusion of the season. In addition, he also got married to Olympic rhythmic gymnast and NHK reporter Airi Hatakeyama.

As was the case worldwide, COVID-19 had a profound impact on the upcoming baseball season. While the pandemic delayed the start of the season, it did not slow Seiya Suzuki down, as he hit .300/.409/.544 with 25 home runs, 6 stolen bases in 10 attempts, and 72 walks to 73 strikeouts. He became the fourth person in NPB history to hit .300 or better and slug 25 or more home runs for five consecutive seasons, joining infielders Hiromitsu Ochiai and Michihiro Ogasawara and the legendary Sadaharu Oh. While the Carp floundered further, going 52-56-12, voters acknowledged the outfielder for his excellence as he won his fifth consecutive Best Nine Award and his second consecutive Golden Glove Award, his fourth in total.

In 2021, the 26-year-old outfielder had his best overall offensive season as a professional ball player. Although he tested positive for corona in late May, he showed no lingering effects, hitting .319/.436/.644 in 131, hitting a career-high 38 home runs, stealing 9 bases in 13 attempts, and walking 87 times to 86 strikeouts. He was particularly good in the last few months of the season, drawing fewer walks and swinging at more pitches but increasing his power output and hitting .360/.473/.852 with 19 home runs.

Seiya Suzuki is one of the premier power hitters in Japan, having led the Central League in OPS in three of the past five years (and ended the year second and fourth in the two years that he did not). At the plate, Suzuki stands tall with his hands held high. His swing mechanics are simple and efficient. He is direct to the ball, with little wasted movement. Thanks to strong wrists and above-to-above-average bat speed, he is able to cover the entire plate, though questions concerning his ability to square off of premium velocity will remain until he comes to the United States and proves he is able to do so. He transfers his weight and power from load to hips extremely efficiently and the ball explodes off the bat when he makes solid contact. His leg lift was more exaggerated in past seasons, but in 2021 it was more subdued. For his career in Japan, Suzuki has a 486:567 walk:strikeout ratio. He has a very good sense of the strike zone. As compared to some of his slugging contemporaries, he swings at fewer pitches outside of the zone and makes more solid contact with the pitches that he does swing at.

Suzuki has average-to-above-average speed but is not a particularly good base stealer. While he has logged double-digit swipes in multiple seasons- peaking at 25 in 2019- his caught stealing rate for his career is an abysmal 61%, well below the 70% threshold for stolen bases to be an effective offensive tactic. His speed does help him on the basepaths though, forcing the opposing battery to keep him in check and giving him the ability to stretch hits and take the extra base.

In the field, Suzuki is a solid fielder. He fits the mold of the prototypical right fielder, possessing an above-average cannon of an arm but not rangy enough to handle the rigors of center. Suzuki does not always read the ball off the bat the greatest but is athletic enough to course correct on the fly when necessary.