MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 20: Yoshinobu Yamamoto #18 of Team Japan looks on during the fifth inning against Team Mexico during the World Baseball Classic Semifinals at loanDepot park on March 20, 2023 in Miami, Florida.
Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Japanese Super Prospect Breaks Strikeout Record Before Coming to MLB

Yoshinobu Yamamoto — a superstar pitcher in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league and this offseason's No. 2-ranked free agent — set a strikeout record in his final start before coming to the MLB.

Yamamoto is a 25-year-old right-handed pitcher from Japan who played on the NPB's Orix Buffaloes. During Saturday's Game 6 of the Japan Series (the NPB's World Series equivalent), Yamamoto threw a 138-pitch complete game that included 14 strikeouts — which broke a Japan Series record previously held by Yu Darvish.

The record-setting strikeout performance was an excellent bounce-back outing from Yamamoto, who started for the Buffaloes in Game 1 of the series and conceded seven earned runs. Not that Game 1's poor performance affected Yamamoto's free agency standing, however; the three consecutive Sawamura Awards (the NPB's version of the Cy Young) he has won prove that he's more than ready for the MLB.

Now that the Japan Series is over, Yamamoto — who produced a 16-6 record, 1.21 ERA and struck out 169 hitters in 164 innings this season — has set his sights on MLB free agency. That's especially because the Orix Buffaloes approved Yamamoto's move to the MLB immediately after losing Game 7 of the Japan Series, via the NPB's player posting system. 

Despite losing the Japan Series, Yamamoto is clearly excited for his future. After Orix lost 7-1 in Game 7 on Sunday, Yamamoto was quoted by Japan's Kyodo news agency as saying, "I'd like to thank my team for accepting my request."

Now, the race is on for MLB teams to sign Yamamoto — who only ranks behind Shohei Ohtani, his Japanese national teammate, in the MLB's free agency rankings. The only question is which team will sign him.

We already know that the New York Yankees are interested; Yankees GM Brian Cashman flew to Japan on Sept. 10 to watch a Yamamoto start (a game in which Yamamoto threw his second career no-hitter). The Los Angeles Dodgers, the Boston Red Sox and a slew of other teams are also expected to have an interest in Yamamoto's services. 

While it's highly unlikely that any MLB team has enough money to sign both Ohtani and Yamamoto this offseason, one would imagine that the two Japanese stars would love to play together in the MLB. Regardless of where Yamamoto ends up, MLB fans can expect to see him generate many strikeouts next season.

MORE: Best Japanese Players in MLB History, Ranked