Here is Japan's 30-man roster for the 2023 World Baseball Classic, running from March 8 to March 21. Samurai Japan will host Pool B at Tokyo Dome, where Australia, China, the Czech Republic and South Korea will also compete for two quarterfinal berths.
The Asian quarterfinals will pit the top teams from Tokyo and Pool A in Taiwan, against the second-place team from the other pool, with the winners advancing to the semifinals in Miami.
Japan is the tournament's only four-time semifinalist, having won the first two editions in 2006 and 2009 before falling in the semifinals in 2013 and 2017.
Manager Hideki Kuriyama has said he wants a team that will win while showing Japan's style of baseball in its best light. That ideal combines a focus on pitching and defense and the ability to scratch out one run whenever needed.
His pitching staff is loaded with strikeout artists, most of whom throw a quality split-fingered fastball, while the mostly left-handed-hitting position players bring a tantalizing mix of blazing speed, exceptional defense, plate discipline and power.
(Ages as of March 8, 2023)
RHP Age: 36 Club: San Diego Padres
Few pitchers offer as many different deliveries as the veteran of Japan's 2009 championship. The 2007 winner of the Sawamura Award as Japan's most impressive starting pitcher, Darvish was a two-time MVP in Japan's Pacific League.
Darvish led the PL in strikeouts three times, and has led MLB once. He's coming off a career year with the Padres in which he became the second pitcher after Hideo Nomo to record 3,000 top-flight strikeouts including 1,000 in both Japan and MLB.
LHP Age: 29 Club: DeNA BayStars
One of two left-handed starters with exceptional hop on their fastballs on the roster, Imanaga's 91.5 mph heater ranked No. 2 last season in value among NPB pitchers with 90 innings or more according to Delta Graphs. The BayStars ace complements that with an excellent curve and a changeup. He's one of Japan's most extreme fly-ball pitchers.
RHP Age: 25 Club: Nippon Ham Fighters
Ito's big pitches are his fastball, slider and splitter, but he'll mix in curves, cutters, two-seamers and changeups. On a staff that is a who's who of Japanese pitchers who miss bats the most, Ito gets few swinging strikes, but hitters only made hard contact off him an NPB-worst 29 percent of the time, according to Delta Graphs. The son of a commercial fisherman, Ito's given name means "great sea" and he is famous for spending his leisure time fishing.
LHP Age: 21 Club: Orix Buffaloes
Miyagi's game is command and variety. The PL's 2021 Rookie of the Year locates his 89-mph fastball and mixes it with Japan's second-best curveball, a slider and a change. In last year's Japan Series, Miyagi started on four days' rest, short by Japan standards, to win the decider.
RHP-LHB Age: 28 Club: Los Angeles Angels
Arguably the best player in the world, Ohtani is expected to both pitch and DH for Japan, managed by his first pro skipper, Hideki Kuriyama. He is eager to make up for missed time after an ankle injury suffered in the 2016 Japan Series kept him out of the 2017 WBC.
Ohtani, the American League's unanimous MVP in 2021, received all but one first-place vote in the PL's 2016 MVP ballot, when Japan's media created the first "Ohtani rule:" allowing journalists to cast multiple Best Nine Award votes for the same player at pitcher and one other position. In addition to MVP, he was named the PL's best pitcher and DH.
RHP Age: 21 Club: Lotte Marines
Seven days after becoming Japan's youngest perfect-game pitcher, setting an NPB record with 13-straight strikeouts and matching the record with 19 in a game, Sasaki pitched eight more perfect innings before getting the hook. His fastball, with an average speed last year of 98.4 mph is the hardest in NPB. That velocity and an excellent splitter makes the fastball deadly, despite its tendency to flatten out.
RHP Age: 20 Club: Chunichi Dragons
Among pitchers who threw 90 innings last season, Takahashi displayed one of Japan's most effective splitters, with batters making contact on an NPB-low 66.1 percent of all his pitches. His swinging strike rate and strikeout percentage was second only to Sasaki's.
LHP Age: 25 Club: Yakult Swallows
Japan's other lefty with a dynamite hopping fastball, Takahashi is a strike-thrower who keeps hitters off balance mostly with changeups and sliders.
RHP Age: 22 Club: Yomiuri Giants
Togo brings an above-average fastball with a very good splitter and a good slider that helped him lead the Central League in strikeouts for the first time last season. He's a fly-ball pitcher who gets lots of soft contact.
RHP Age: 24 Club: Orix Buffaloes
Yamamoto can beat you in so many ways. He complements one of Japan's better fastballs with a good cutter, an outstanding curveball and an excellent splitter. In the last two seasons, he's led his league in wins, strikeouts, ERA and innings pitched, and has back-to-back PL MVPs and Sawamura Awards, as the nation's most impressive starting pitcher.
RHP Age: 26 Club: Hiroshima Carp
Kuribayashi's splitter might be Japan's best, but the Central League's 2021 rookie of the year is also one of the more balanced relievers on the staff. He not only has an excellent fastball to go with the split, but a good curve and cutter as well. Not surprisingly, Kurabayashi has struck out 140 of the 386 batters he's faced in his brief career.
LHP Age: 27 Club: Rakuten Eagles
Matsui's splitter and slider are all well above average, giving him a fairly balanced arsenal. He's the only lefty on the team who is typically used out of the bullpen by his club, although Kuriyama has said tournament roles have yet to be fixed.
RHP Age: 23 Club: Yomiuri Giants
Primarily a fastball-splitter pitcher, Ota mirrored Kuribayashi's 2021 season by also saving 37 games and being named CL rookie of the year.
RHP Age: 24 Club: Orix Buffaloes
Udagawa was selected despite just 22-1/3 innings in the majors after turning pro on a non-roster developmental contract. His combination of excellent fastball and splitter could rank him among the best on this team but it's too early to tell.
RHP Age: 23 Club: Hanshin Tigers
Yuasa has an electric fastball he threw 60 percent of the time while mixing in a splitter that is good but not elite, at least not yet.
RHB Age: 30 Club: SoftBank Hawks
Japan's best at throwing out would-be base stealers, Kai has won six-straight PL Golden Gloves and three Best Nines. He cemented his "Kai Cannon" nickname in Japan's baseball consciousness when he was selected 2018 Japan Series MVP despite going 2-for-14 with no RBIs but throwing out all six runners who tried to steal on him.
RHB Age: 32 Club: Yakult Swallows
Nakamura, whose nickname is "Mucho," is the defensive leader of the two-time defending CL champion Swallows, while being a solid offensive contributor. He's won three Golden Gloves and three Best Nine Awards.
LHB Age: 30 Club: Yomiuri Giants
Oshiro is the one Japan catcher with any kind of power, with 43 career homers in 1,446 at-bats, and has spent plenty of time at first base to keep his left-handed bat in the lineup.
LHB Age: 30 Club: Seibu Lions
In his first six pro seasons, Genda has won five PL Golden Gloves at shortstop and four Best Nine awards. He's a good base stealer, but no longer quite in the same class as some of the team's younger greyhounds.
RHB Age: 24 Club: DeNA BayStars
Maki, entering his third year, is a slugger rather than a defender, and picked up his first Best Nine Award for a sophomore season that was more or less what he accomplished with the bat as a rookie. Japan's other second baseman, Tetsuto Yamada, is a better all-round player coming off one of his poorer offensive seasons.
LHB Age: 30 Club:SoftBank Hawks
Makihara joins as a replacement for Seiya Suzuki. Like two other Hawks on the team, Takuya Kai and Ukyo Shuto, Makihara turned pro on a non-roster developmental contract. Expected to be SoftBank's regular center fielder this season, he is also a versatile middle infielder and an excellent base runner but lacks power and plate discipline.
LHB Age: 23 Club: Yakult Swallows
Winner of the CL's last two MVP awards, Murakami last year became Japan's youngest Triple Crown winner and the second in Japanese pro baseball to surpass 55 home runs in a season.
His defense at third base is competent, and despite his size, Murakami is a good base runner. In 2020, he became the 17th player in Japan to steal three bases in an inning and the first in 41 years.
LHB Age: 26 Club: Hanshin Tigers
Selected as a backup to Genda at shortstop, Nakano, named the CL's top shortstop in 2022, received Delta Graphs' sixth-highest value for base running among players with 300-plus plate appearances in 2022, after finishing second in 2021, when he led the CL with 30 stolen bases.
RHB Age: 26 Club: Yomiuri Giants
Okamoto has hit 30-plus home runs in the past five seasons. A better fielder at third base than Murakami, Okamoto also has won the last two CL Golden Gloves at the hot corner.
RHB Age: 30 Club: Yakult Swallows
Perhaps the most extreme fly-ball hitter in Japan, Yamada brings an excellent glove at second base. He has combined a .300 average with 30 homers and 30 steals three times, something no other player in Japan has done even twice, although steals have not been a big part of his game since 2019.
RHB Age: 31 Club: Seibu Lions
An avid pianist, Yamakawa is also one of Japan's biggest swingers and most extreme fly-ball and pull hitters. He led the PL in home runs for the third time in 2022, and collected his third Best Nine Award at first base in the process.
LHB Age: 29 Club: SoftBank Hawks
Kondo is a former catcher who has also played third before settling recently in the outfield. One of Japan's most selective hitters, Kondo hits for average and walks more than he strikes out and has three PL Best Nine awards.
LHB Age: 25 Club: St. Louis Cardinals
Nootbaar is the first player to play for Japan in the WBC with no Nippon Professional Baseball experience and the first to qualify solely through his ancestry, via his Japanese mother. His addition gives manager Kuriyama the option to go with an exceptional defensive outfield if needed as well as an extra player with MLB experience.
LHB Age: 27 Club: SoftBank Hawks
Perhaps Japan's premier base stealer with 118 steals in 138 career attempts, Shuto is also a versatile defender. He can play center field and anywhere in the infield, where he is Kuriyama's best defensive option at third base.
LHB Age: 29 Club: Boston Red Sox
The only thing Yoshida lacks is speed and a great arm. At 173 centimeters, the two-time PL batting champion and five-time Best Nine winner hits the ball as hard as anyone in Japan last year other than Murakami, while he rarely offers at pitches out of the zone, or swings and misses.