Roki Sasaki is 21 years old, and in the eyes of some talent evaluators, he is already in the discussion for the title of best pitcher in the world. Yes, right there with his Samurai Japan teammate Shohei Ohtani, whose national record he broke for the fastest pitch ever thrown by a high schooler four years ago. Monday night's start against Mexico in the World Baseball Classic semifinals marks his introduction to an American audience certain to spend the coming years frothing for his permanent arrival.
In his first appearance on an international stage the size of the WBC's -- every game this week at LoanDepot Park is sold out, and half of the TVs in Japan are tuning in to watch their team that is 5-0 in the tournament -- Sasaki threw 3.2 innings, struck out eight and allowed one unearned run against the Czech Republic. Although the Czech lineup consisted of one former major leaguer (Eric Sogard), a pair of former minor leaguers (Martin Cervenka and Jakub Hajtmar) and six others with no affiliated experience, the raw excellence of Sasaki's repertoire looked to evaluators like it would play against the world's finest hitters just the same.