MESA, Arizona — Ichiro Suzuki is a brawny 5’8″ and 77kg, while Mike Trout is a burly 6-2, 235. They represent very different body types and playstyles, but their unique abilities have converged to influence their careers. . by Seiya Suzuki.
After just two weeks with the Chicago Cubs, though, Suzuki is doing a lot to create his own identity.
On opening day, the outfielder was thrown into the fire against Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers – the winner of the National League’s Cy Young award – and he produced a single and a walk, which is no small feat against a pitcher known for his control. necessary. .
“I had never seen a pitch like this before, but it excited me,” Suzuki told Japanese reporters of Burnes’ quick cut. “I was like, ‘Wow, are there pitchers who can do that here?’ The strength and movement of the ball was amazing and simply something I had never seen before.”
Excited? Yes. deterred? No way.
Since his debut, Suzuki has continued to shine, playing in right field and hitting in the middle of the Cubs’ order. He scored in back-to-back games in Pittsburgh, went deep twice more through Thursday, and collected 12 RBI, along with 13 walks, two of which were intentional. He was leading the majors with a 0.520 base percentage.
Though they share a surname, Suzuki is not related to Ichiro Suzuki, the longtime Seattle Mariners star who had his own scintillating debut in 2001. Ichiro Suzuki’s stellar first season earned him the rare combination of being the most valuable player and rookie of the year – making him the only one of 16 position players to come from Japan to be named his league’s top rookie. (Shohei Ohtani, a two-way star, was also, in 2018.)
The 2022 MLB season
A season that was in doubt is suddenly in full swing.
The Japanese player in the 17th position, of course, is Seiya Suzuki, and his 0.343 batting average in 13 games makes comparisons with Ichiro Suzuki pretty obvious.
These comparisons go all the way back to Seiya being selected out of high school by the Hiroshima Carp in the second round of the 2012 draft. Immediately, he was nicknamed the “Red Helmet Ichiro,” a reference to Carpa’s colorful batting helmet. He was also initially given the same uniform number as Ichiro, 51, before finally accepting number 1 for the 2019 season, a prestigious honor with Carp.
Just like Ichiro, young Suzuki’s journey to right field began in a high school pitcher’s lot, where he hit 92 miles per hour on radar guns. But Hiroshima coveted his attacking potential and began to develop it as a midfielder. He bounced between the positions during call-ups in 2013 and 2014, but in 2016, at age 21, he was the Carp’s starting right fielder.
Young Suzuki’s battle to secure a position caught the attention of Hiroki Kuroda, who had pitched in the United States, including with the Yankees from 2012 to 2014. That led to career change advice — and a change in approach. The red helmeted Ichiro would try to get more out of his muscular physique.
“I was so totally consumed with settling down and fighting for a job with Carp at that time that American baseball was the furthest thing from my mind,” Suzuki explained recently in his native Japanese. “But Kuroda San noticed me and told me about a player there that I remembered with a similar build and skill set. He told me that if I worked hard, I could be like him.”
Kuroda had just joined the Carp after seven seasons and 79 wins for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Yankees. The player he was referencing to inspire Suzuki? The Angels’ Trout – Considered by many to be one of the greatest players in baseball history.
Kuroda’s encouragement had an immediate impact.
“I started looking for videos of this guy,” Suzuki explained. “When I met him, I was mesmerized by his talent. He could run, he could throw, he could hit, and he had power. For Kuroda San to tell me that I had it within me to become that kind of player was so inspiring. He gave me great motivation at the exact moment I needed it most. It influenced my training, my diet and my entire approach. I became much more focused on becoming this guy.”
When Kuroda retired in 2016 after two seasons as a teammate with Suzuki, Trout won two of his three MVP awards and was voted into five straight All-Star Games — a streak now with nine. Contacted in Japan by phone, Kuroda explained what he saw in young Suzuki to make such a comparison.
“I know I set the bar high,” Kuroda said in Japanese. “But both are right-handed outfielders with a similar build. Obviously I’m not a hitter, but when I look at Seiya Suzuki from a pitcher’s point of view, I see a very difficult exit. Also, you have the term ‘five-tool player’ in America, and that’s exactly what it is. Not only is he a talented hitter, but he excels at all the skills required of a positional player. That complete package with that body type reminded me of Trout.”
Kuroda was even more delighted with the way Suzuki took his advice to heart.
“All I did was realize his potential and give him a goal, albeit a high one,” he said. “He had the motivation and the desire to pursue it. Aside from his thorough athleticism, I would say his unwavering ambition is one of his most impressive qualities.”
While Suzuki was inspired by Trout’s talent, he cautioned that his goal was less to play as Trout and more to channel his energy into maximizing his talent, which is what he saw of Trout in these videos.
“Baseball is a sport you play every day,” Suzuki said. “By giving myself the challenge of maximizing my potential to the fullest, as Trout had done with his, I was able to push myself when I got frustrated saying to myself, ‘I bet he kept pushing’ or when I felt exhausted, I thought, ‘You won’t achieve your best like he did if you stop here.’ He was not my rival; he was my inspiration.”
In addition to his on-field exploits, which earned him five Japan Golden Glove awards, Suzuki hit 0.300 or higher in six consecutive seasons for Hiroshima, winning batting titles in 2019 and 2021. In those same seasons, he also led the Central League. on – base percentage and percentage on base plus slugging. He hit 25 or more home runs every year as a regular and hit double figures in stolen bases three times. He made two all-star teams and represented Japan at the 2017 World Baseball Classic and the Tokyo Olympics last summer, where he won a gold medal.
Although Suzuki said that he had not initially considered competing in the United States, this challenge turned out to be the natural progression of his dedication to maximizing his potential. Suzuki acknowledged Trout’s influence by adopting his shirt number, 27, when signing with the Cubs.
As Suzuki talked about the joy of all the new things he hopes to find in American baseball — like Burnes’ cut fastball — he threw an unexpected curveball, which made Kuroda’s remark about his quest for self-improvement all the more apparent.
“I even imagine the way fans complain is different here, and I can’t wait to experience that,” he said.
If your start is any indication of how your career will develop, being harassed may not happen often, at least not in Chicago.
Brad Lefton is a bilingual journalist based in St. Louis who covered baseball in Japan and the United States for nearly three decades.