Seiya Suzuki of Chicago Cubs Baseball Team Exceeds His Mentor’s Expectations | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Seiya Suzuki of Chicago Cubs Baseball Team Exceeds His Mentor’s Expectations

Behind the 5-year, 10-billion-yen contract and success that shows no signs of a short preparation period...

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Suzuki just after hitting his first home run in the majors on April 11 against the Brewers (Photo: Kyodo News)Starting with a one-hit, two-run homer in the season opener, Seiya Suzuki has quickly earned the trust of manager Ross by recording nine consecutive hits and 12 consecutive baserunners since his debut. As of April 29, he still ranks 5th and 6th in the National League in OPS and on-base percentage, respectively, and has four home runs and a .438 on-base percentage, winning the hearts of fans.

What do his two mentors think was the reason he was able to make such a spectacular start to his major league career, despite the pressure of the large 5-year, 10 billion yen contract?


Seiya’s mentors were not expecting him to make it to the majors like this. But his success in Hiroshima, winning the top hitter’s title, and being No. 4 in the Samurai Japan team. All of these have exceeded my expectations. He has done that many times, so I had a feeling that he would be able to do the same thing in the Majors. We’re just getting started but he’s off to a good start.

Katsuto Ichihara, manager of the baseball team at his alma mater, Nishimatsugakusha University High School, also looks back happily on Suzuki, saying that he is constantly amazed by him. He has never been afraid of anything and is not at all been intimidated by his new environment.

As was the case when I joined Hiroshima from high school, “he said,” I didn’t feel particularly conscious of being among the players I had seen on TV. I think he was just looking forward to going to the majors. I think he just went about his business as usual, without putting in the effort because he was in the majors. “

But that normal routine is difficult. Differences in balls, language problems, and changes in the environment. The fact that many of Japan’s leading sluggers have had to suffer through this has proven this point, but Junzo Uchida, who was the manager of the second team when Suzuki joined Hiroshima and helped his talent grow, is full of praise of Suzuki’s ability to adapt.

 In Suzuki’s case, it must have been difficult for him to sign a contract due to the prolonged labor-management negotiations between MLB and the players’ union, and it must have been difficult for him emotionally as well. In terms of batting, he has a good sense of timing. Japanese pitchers throw by lifting their front foot and then splitting their bodies. Pitchers over there are very quick from start to release, coming in 1, 2, 3. Extreme pitchers throw in 1, 2, and 3, with almost no 1. That is why Ichiro reduced the width of his pendulum, Hideki Matsui changed from lifting his feet to using a slip foot, and Shohei Ohtani adopted the no-step hitting method to cope with the situation. Conversely, players such as Shogo Akiyama, who left the Reds before the start of the season, have not been able to adapt to this change and have not been able to show their abilities.

 Suzuki, however, has slightly reduced his timing from the beginning and has been able to strike aggressively without being slow to get up. He sometimes hits with no steps when he is backed into a corner, but he has also developed enough power in his nine years in Japan to not lose his strength without using a big recoil.

Junzo Uchida is surrounded by bats sent to him by the many great players he has mentored, including Hiromitsu Ochiai, Kazuhiro Kiyohara, and Hideki Matsui (Photo: Shinya Nishizaki; photo taken in November 2019).Current trends in the majors are also likely to be on Suzuki’s side. The fly ball revolution has led to more hitters taking upper swings, and pitchers are tending to increase the number of high four-seamers, which could be a tailwind for Suzuki, who is good at hitting high, as he did last season with a nearly 40% batting average.


 “In the majors, hitters who can handle high pitches are closer to success. Suzuki is not the type to drop his right shoulder and swing uppercut, nor is he the type to get his right shoulder out early and strike. He can swing from the top position at an angle that allows him to get the bat out most quickly, so he should have no trouble hitting high. And Suzuki is not only good at hitting the ball far, but he is also an excellent defender and runner and his good pitch selection allows him to get a lot of ground balls. His strength is that he can contribute to the team’s victory in every aspect,” said Uchida.

Ichihara recalls his high school days when he saw Suzuki, who ranked fifth in the league in fielding balls.

 He often threw his hands at balls, especially when he had a chance. I often told him, ‘Be patient. Since I was still in high school, I couldn’t do that right away, so I had to do it gradually, but I think I learned a lot from that. In Hiroshima, through experience, I learned to be patient and get the fore-ball after the mark became tighter.


What makes Suzuki different from other players as he continues to grow and accumulate success? Coach Ichihara cited, honesty.

 He was a child who listened to what others had to say. When he was in his third year of high school, professional scouts came to watch his practice games every week, everyone tends to put in a lot of effort and grow taller if they want to go pro.

 I told him, “Scouts know everything about you, such as how far you can fly when you bat or how fast you can throw the ball as a pitcher. I think they are looking at your attitude.” I was particularly impressed by the way he ran as fast as he could to first base and never slowed down in his attempts to reach the next base, and with how he did not slack off when it was hot and tiring for pitchers when he would have been tempted to cut corners.

 It is easy to imagine that he had good seniors in Hiroshima, taught him, watched and learned from them, and absorbed more without hesitation if he thought it would benefit him. What I find most impressive is that even though he has become such an active professional player, he has not lost his naivete and his ability to listen to what others have to say.

Uchida sometimes asked Sakamoto of the Giants, who was also his teammate in the Samurai Japan team, for advice on hitting (photo: Kyodo News).Uchida’s answer, “greed,” ultimately comes down to the same thing.

 He is always saying, “I want to be able to do this, and I want to be like this.” If I had any doubts, I would immediately ask, and this did not change even after I moved to coach the Giants. One year, even though his batting average was still over 30% late in the season, he called me after a long time and said, ‘I’m thinking of changing my batting’. I guess he was looking ahead and thinking about further improving his game. Even after he became a leading player in baseball, he went to talk to players on different teams, such as Hayato Sakamoto of the Giants.


Suzuki’s ability to stay true to his desires has helped him to become a player who has played in the major leagues. And it seems that this will not change in the future.

 When I sent him a line of encouragement on his way to the majors, he replied, “I will evolve further”. I thought that evolution was very typical of him.


Laughing, Uchida explains the source of Suzuki’s insatiable desire to improve.

Shohei Otani and Shintaro Fujinami, who were in the same grade, and Hiroki Takahashi, who was the No. 1 pick in his class at Hiroshima, participated in the Koshien National High School Baseball Championships and were selected for the Japanese high school team. But Suzuki did not make it to Koshien and was not a member of that team. There is no doubt that I came here with the desire not to lose to them.

He has caught up with and surpassed his generation, and now he will face Otani, the symbol of that generation, on the highest stage of the Majors. The two teams have not played each other in the inter-league this season, so Suzuki’s heart will be even more excited if their first matchup in the majors is the World Series.

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