Back when the Chicago Cubs first signed Seiya Suzuki in March, and the hard-hitting Japanese outfielder was preparing to make the leap into MLB, I got a feel for the hyped-up newcomer by watching videos of an early 2022 conversation he had with the former all-star reliever Koji Uehara. It’s a very entertaining chat throughout, but the primary piece of information I took from it was this bit of (translated) insight from Koji, on the differences between pitchers in NPB and MLB, and the necessity that expectations for Suzuki shouldn’t be too high right out of the gate:
I hate to say it, but there’s a very low chance that Suzuki is able to succeed from his very first at-bat. He needs to go against (MLB pitchers) and get used to what it’s really like.
But Koji was wrong! Whatever happens to Suzuki over the next 150 games this season, and the remaining four years of his contract, Seiya has obliterated any early trepidation by seeing and smashing the ball better than almost any MLB veteran through the first couple weeks of the season. As the Cubs have managed a decent 5-4 start over their opening three series, Suzuki has been the immediate star of an otherwise very dull-looking roster. The .543 OBP and .960 slugging percentage are impressive enough on their own, but even better, they’re aren’t blown up by one or two great games in the early going. Instead, Suzuki has brought consistent success in every appearance for the Cubs this year. He has at least one hit in every game except for one in which he appeared as a pinch-hitter, and even in that one, he managed to draw a walk.
But the Cubs didn’t bring Suzuki over to walk or even just to get on base. They signed him to clobber the dang baseball with herculean swings like the ones he made in Japan. And it’s so far, so good on that front too, with Suzuki blasting four home runs, trailing only C.J. Cron (obviously) and this guy named Vlad Guerrero Jr. You might as well look at all of them, starting with the meatball of a slider he exploded out of Wrigley in his third game wearing the red C.
“I feel like I’m still trying to find the perfect balance in my at-bats and trying out different things every day,” Suzuki said through a translator after this game. “I feel like I’m quite not there yet in terms of my adjustments.”
When he said this, he had reached base safely in seven of his 13 Major League plate appearances. But in his next game, against the Pirates, Suzuki raised the bar even higher. In a 2-1 Cubs win, Seiya accounted for all the offense, meeting some high heat in two straight at-bats and banishing it both times well beyond the outfield for the second and third dingers of his career.
“Obviously I’m getting lucky,” Suzuki said afterwards. Yeah, sure thing bud. He had an RBI single in his next game, an RBI double in the game after that, and then a single, double, and walk in the game on Saturday. Finally, on Sunday, after walking twice, Suzuki got a hold of one in the zone and pushed it just beyond the tall wall in right to help shore up a 6-4 Cubs victory.
You’ve perhaps noticed by now that Suzuki and Cubs third base coach Willie Harris have already developed a bit where they do a little bow to each other during Seiya’s home run trots. You have also probably figured out that Suzuki is a very tough puzzle for MLB pitchers to solve. He’s proven to be very patient as a hitter, walking 25 percent of the time and not chasing pitches out of the zone. And when he does finally receive a gift from the guy on the mound, he’s been ruthless in making them regret it.
“To me what has stood out is just how calm the at-bats are,” Cubs manager David Ross said after the most recent win. “You hear about the plate discipline and the contact, but just being able to find his pitches and not chase outside the strike zone with the velocity that’s here and some of the nasty stuff that he’s faced has been really impressive.”
You’re smart enough to know that nine games in baseball mean basically nothing, and that absolutely anything can happen in any stretch this small. But this should have been, and was expected to be, the part of the year where Suzuki struggled the most. That he has instead managed to not just seamlessly slot into a Major League lineup, but instantly become the very best hitter in that lineup is an extremely meaningful and difficult accomplishment just in itself. There’s no telling how Suzuki’s production plays out from here, but you gotta think that the hardest and most intimidating obstacle has already been surpassed.