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Who is Munetaka Murakami? Stats, MLB posting eligibility, more to know about Japanese home run leader

The stars will be out for Japan in the World Baseball Classic. One of the favorites this year, Japan’s pitching staff includes the likes of Shohei Ohtani, Rōki Sasaki, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. But it’s a player in the batting order, 23-year-old Munetaka Murakami, who could truly be the breakout star of this year’s tournament.

Murakami is coming off a historic NPB season with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, in which he hit 56 home runs — the most ever in a single season for a Japanese-born player. Wladimir Balentien, who is representing the Netherlands, holds the NPB record with 60.

Widely recognized as the best non-MLB hitter in the world, Murakami didn’t just hit homers last season. He also kept the ball in play, slashing .318/.458/.711 last season. Indeed, before the World Baseball Classic has even started he’s homering off MLB pitchers such as Yu Darvish.

MLB fans will be intently watching Murakami, who has already expressed interest in playing in the United States. He is expected to be posted following a three-year deal he signed with the Swallows in December, making his posting date 2025.

WBC PREDICTIONS: The Sporting News baseball experts make their picks

What team does Munetaka Murakami play for?

Murakami currently plays third base for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in NPB.

The left-handed bat was drafted in the first round in 2017, with the Yomiuri Giants and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles also contesting the pick. Murakami debuted in September 2018, hitting a home run in his first at-bat.

Murakami broke out in 2019, starting on NPB Opening Day at just 19 years old after a strong international circuit. His stats have improved year over year, culminating in his historic 2022.

MORE: Japan World Baseball Classic roster

Munetaka Murakami stats

Murakami impressed from his rookie year with the Swallows.

He hit 36 home runs with Yakult in his first full season in 2019, and has had 30-plus home runs in every season since except 2020, when he played in 23 fewer games.

2018 6 1 1 1 2 2 5 .083 .214 .333 .548
2019 143 76 118 36 96 74 184 .231 .332 .481 .814
2020 120 70 130 28 86 87 115 .307 .427 .585 1.012
2021 143 82 139 39 112 106 133 .278 .408 .566 .974
2022 141 114 155 56 134 118 128 .318 .458 .711 1.168
TOTAL 553 343 543 160 430 387 565 .281 .405 .583 .988

For as good as Murakami’s stats have been, the improved production has been especially impressive.

MORE: Why Seiya Suzuki will miss the World Baseball Classic

Munetaka Murakami home run chase

While MLB fans were locked in watching the Aaron Judge home run chase last year, Murakami was chasing history of his own.

The left-handed slugger hit his 55th home run of the season in September, putting him in the conversation to overtake Balentein as the all-time NPB leader.

“It felt perfect,” Murakami said about No. 55, per The Japan Times. “I got it on the sweet spot, so I thought it was going to be a home run.”

However, it would be about three weeks (48 at-bats) without a homer before Murakami overtook Sadahuru Oh’s Japanese-born record of 55 home runs. Murakami hit No. 56 on the last day of the regular season.

Oh is, of course, a legend in NPB circles. He hit 868 career home runs in Japan, a world record by far and a record that is unlikely to be touched. Murakami, of course, will not be in NPB long enough to challenge that record.

MORE: When does the World Baseball Classic start?

After hitting No. 56, Murakami acknowledged the pressure of chasing the legend.

“I had that feel (of homering) for the first time in a while. It’s been a long time,” he said, per Dynes Press Box. “I’d be lying if I said there was no pressure. I’m stunned myself, I wonder whether the reward came at the very end.”

When can Munetaka Murakami come to MLB?

Last December, the 23-year-old Murakami inked a three-year deal worth 600 million yen ($4.4 million) per year.

That contract comes with a clause that he will be posted in 2025 at the end of the deal, meaning his MLB career would begin in 2026.

“It would be a huge blow to our club,” Swallows president Tsuyoshi Kinugasa said, per the Kyodo News. “But he is a treasure in the baseball world. I’m sure baseball fans in Japan want to see him play in the majors.” 

With the popularity of players to come before Murakami, including Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ichiro Suzuki, and most recently Shohei Ohtani, Murakami coming to MLB will undoubtedly do nothing to diminish enthusiasm about him in Japan. It’s going to be a rabid sweepstakes to land the power hitter when he is posted. But there’s still some time before that finally happens.

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