One of the host countries for the 2023 World Baseball Classic, Japan boasts an especially exciting roster.
While Shohei Ohtani is, of course, the headliner, there are plenty of other players to watch from the only two-time World Baseball Classic champions. Japan won the first two iterations of the WBC, reestablishing itself as a baseball superpower, and it is one of the favorites to win once again in 2023.
Alongside Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Seiya Suzuki, Lars Nootbaar, and Masataka Yoshida round out the MLB presence. The 21-year-old phenom Roki Sasaki, however, will finally get his time on the world stage. Sasaki retired an absurd 51 straight batters over two of his starts for the Chiba Lotte Marines last season, with the first of those starts resulting in the 16th perfect game in NPB history and the first since 1994.
On the batting side, Munetaka Murakami will provide a lot of pop at the plate. Murakami had 56 home runs last season with the Yakult Swallows, a record for a Japanese-born player. Japan is in Group B in Tokyo for its pool play, and the Tokyo Dome will also host quarterfinal games before the semifinal and championships rounds in the United States.
MORE: Ohtani vs. Trout and other WBC pitcher-hitter matchups we can’t wait to see
Japan World Baseball Classic 2023 roster
Team Japan has a slightly unconventional build to its roster, carrying 15 pitchers (including Ohtani), three catchers, eight infielders, and just four outfielders.
Many of their fielders are able to play multiple positions in a utility role, with some players such as the Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki being able to play either infield or outfield. Then, of course, there’s the two-way star in Ohtani, who will DH from the left side of the plate in addition to pitching.
|Yu Darvish||San Diego Padres||R|
|Ryoji Kuribayashi||Hiroshima Toyo Carp||R|
|Shota Imanaga||Yokohama DeNA Baystars||L|
|Hiromi Itoh||Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters||R|
|Yuki Matsui||Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles||L|
|Hiroya Miyagi||Orix Buffaloes||L|
|Shohei Ohtani||Los Angeles Angels||R|
|Taisei Ota||Yomiuri Giants||R|
|Roki Sasaki||Chiba Lotte Marines||R|
|Hiroto Takahashi||Chunichi Dragons||R|
|Keiji Takahashi||Tokyo Yakult Swallows||L|
|Shosei Togo||Yomiuri Giants||R|
|Yuki Udagawa||Orix Buffaloes||R|
|Yoshinobu Yamamoto||Orix Buffaloes||R|
|Atsuki Yuasa||Hanshin Tigers||R|
|Takuya Kai||Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks||R/R|
|Yuhei Nakamura||Tokyo Yakult Swallows||R/R|
|Takumi Ohshiro||Yomiuri Giants||L/R|
|Sosuke Genda||Saitama Seibu Lions||SS||L/R|
|Shugo Maki||Yokohama DeNA Baystars||2B/1B||R/R|
|Munetaka Murakami||Tokyo Yakult Swallows||1B/3B||L/R|
|Takumu Nakano||Hanshin Tigers||SS||L/R|
|Kazuma Okamoto||Yomiuri Giants||UTIL||R/R|
|Ukyo Shuto||Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks||UTIL||R/R|
|Tetsuto Yamada||Tokyo Yakult Swallows||2B||R/R|
|Hotaka Yamakawa||Saitama Seibu Lions||1B/3B||R/R|
|Kensuke Kondoh||Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks||OF||L/R|
|Lars Nootbaar||St. Louis Cardinals||RF||L/R|
|Seiya Suzuki||Chicago Cubs||RF||R/R|
|Masataka Yoshida||Boston Red Sox||OF||L/R|
MORE: Will Shohei Ohtani command a $450 million contract?
Japan players to watch in World Baseball Classic
No key players list on Japan would be complete without Shohei Ohtani’s presence. The two-way 2021 AL MVP has taken MLB by storm and somehow surpassed the massive hype levels around him. Whether he’s pitching or hitting, Ohtani is must-see TV.
Arguably more exciting than Ohtani, however, is the youth on display with this Japan team. Yu Darvish is the only pitcher older than 30 on the staff, and in fact just six players are 30 or older. Roki Sasaki, at 21 years old, is the highlight of this staff as he showcases an overpowering fastball and a wipeout splitter. (Notably absent is new Met Kodai Senga, who is instead preparing for his first MLB season in New York.)
Roki Sasaki, Fastball & Slider, Individual Pitches + Overlay. pic.twitter.com/6qdkBV9FIl
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 15, 2023
In the field, there is some MLB representation, though it’s confined to the outfield. Seiya Suzuki and Lars Nootbaar (Nootbaar, whose mother is from Japan, is the only USA-born player on the team) are taking up the outfield, and Red Sox fans will get a sneak peek at Masataka Yoshida. Otherwise, youth rules the day, with Munetaka Murakami and Shugo Maki standing out.
MORE: World Baseball Classic 2023: MLB team-by-team roster breakdown
Who is coaching Japan in the World Baseball Classic?
Samurai Japan will be managed by Hideki Kuriyama.
Japan brought Kuriyama on in 2021 to try to lead the nation to its first WBC title since 2009. The longtime Nippon Professional Baseball manager was an installation with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters from 2012 to 2021. He won a Japan championship in 2016, and he was responsible for cultivating Ohtani as the two-way superstar he ended up being.
Kuriyama, in fact, uses several elements that some might consider “American.” He also began to employ an opener in Hokkaido, and he has an emphasis on what are broadly called analytics.
“We must be compelled to keep searching until the very last minute for those who can help the team win,” Kuriyama said of building his team, per Kyodo News last year. “Someone of genius might well emerge from among people still in school.”
Japan World Baseball Classic history
This will be Japan’s fifth World Baseball Classic, as it looks to return to the top of the baseball world after winning the first two iterations in 2006 and 2009.
Despite not winning in 2013 or 2017, Japan did place, finishing third in both. The Samurai, however, are seeking first with perhaps the most loaded roster they’ve fielded yet.
|2006||Won Championship||10-6 win over Cuba|
|2009||Won Championship||5-3 win over South Korea (10 innings)|
|2013||Third place||3-1 loss to Puerto Rico|
|2017||Third place||2-1 loss to USA|
Japan World Baseball Classic 2023 schedule
Japan will be playing in Pool B with South Korea, Australia, China, and the Czech Republic.
Japan’s first game will be on March 9 against China at 5 a.m. ET, the second game of Pool B.
Pool play will wrap up on March 12 against Australia.
Japan will play this round at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo. It needs to finish first or second to advance to the quarterfinals.
|Date||Game||Time (ET)||Channel (U.S.)|
|March 9||China vs. Japan||5 a.m.||FS2|
|March 10||Korea vs. Japan||5 a.m.||FS2|
|March 11||Czech Republic vs. Japan||5 a.m.||FS1|
|March 12||Japan vs. Australia||6 a.m.||FS1|