It’s possible around this time next year, we might be reminiscing about the Summer of Seiya 2020.
It’s not at all far-fetched. There aren’t many players going into the new year with as much momentum behind them as Seiya Suzuki, the Hiroshima Carp’s resident superstar outfielder.
Suzuki got a raise commensurate with his status on Wednesday, telling reporters his salary now clocks in at ¥280 million, a cool ¥120 million up from this year.
Already a favorite son in baseball-mad Hiroshima, Suzuki’s talent and affable, humble personality could lift him to even greater heights nationwide.
The 25-year-old is coming off another strong season, one that landed him a spot on the Central League Best Nine team. He also just got married. So everything is coming up Suzuki right now. The young star is surging at a good time too.
Even with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Tetsuto Yamada and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ Yuki Yanagita garnering the lion’s share of attention, Suzuki has quietly, comparatively at least, become one of the best all-around talents in Japan.
Suzuki has all the tools needed to be a good ballplayer for a really long time. One who could be plying his trade in North America in the future. He’s one of NPB’s top players at the plate, a threat on the basepaths and worthy of the Golden Gloves he’s won each of the last four seasons.
Right now, to see him play is worth double whatever they’re charging at Mazda Stadium these days.
Suzuki won the batting title with a .335 average and also finished with 28 home runs, 87 RBIs and 25 stolen bases for the Carp this season. He posted a 1.018 on-base plus slugging percentage in a year when no other CL player reached 1.000 and led all of NPB with a WAR of 8.6, per DeltaGraphs. In 612 plate appearances, he drew 103 walks and struck out just 81 times.
“It was a good season personally, but the team finished in fourth place and I really didn’t have a lot of RBIs,” Suzuki said Wednesday at a news conference. “I really think I could’ve done a little better.”
If he keeps it up, he’s only going to continue to make a bigger name for himself.
Suzuki once shared the spotlight with Yoshihiro Maru, the CL MVP in 2017 and 2018, and Ryosuke Kikuchi among Hiroshima’s position players. He could stand alone next year, with Maru already part of the Yomiuri Giants and Kikuchi currently seeking an MLB deal.
Even if Kikuchi returns, Suzuki is probably done being in a co-share for top billing on the marquee.
Suzuki is going to keep on racking up acclaim and accolades by just doing what he’s doing and staying consistent. What could help send him into the stratosphere is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“When you become a national team player, of course you carry the Hinomaru on your back,” Suzuki said. “Of course players from other countries will be carrying their nations as well. Since we have the Olympics in Tokyo next year, I want to show that Japan is the strongest if I’m able to be chosen.”
National team manager Atsunori Inaba’s search for a cleanup hitter for the Tokyo Games might’ve ended in November at the Premier12. Suzuki was the unquestioned star of the event — a tournament featuring the top 12 teams in the World Baseball Softball Confederation rankings. In eight games for Samurai Japan (aka Inaba Japan), Suzuki hit .444 with three home runs and 13 RBIs. He helped Japan win the tournament and was named MVP.
A performance like that during the Olympics, especially one that leads his country to its long-coveted first Olympic gold, and on home soil no less, would likely give Suzuki household-name status in Japan and further raise his already burgeoning profile abroad.
Suzuki isn’t necessarily a star on the rise, because he’s already here. He could, however, keep moving up to even greater heights. Which means all fans, even casual fans, had better start getting used to his face. You might be seeing it a lot.