Major leaguers Yu Darvish, Shohei Ohtani, and Seiya Suzuki are among the 12 players on Japan's preliminary roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, according to the Associated Press. The rest of the roster will be announced at a later date and is expected to be rounded out by players from Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league.
"I remember watching the games with my heart pounding," Ohtani said at a press conference on Friday. "Now I get to play. And so I really want to play well. I'm focused on winning."
Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels' two-way superstar, was on Japan's roster for the 2017 WBC, but had to withdraw from the event due to an ankle injury. His pitching role for this year's WBC is undecided, and back in October, Ohtani told the Los Angeles Times he could "pitch as a middle reliever or closer" depending on the team's needs.
MLB fans were first introduced to Darvish, currently of the San Diego Padres, at the 2009 WBC. He made two starts and two relief appearances that year and blew the save in the bottom of the ninth inning in the championship game against South Korea, though Japan regained the lead in the top of the tenth and Darvish finished the game to earn the win. He was 22 at the time.
Suzuki was also 22 when played in the 2017 WBC and went 3 for 14 with two walks in five games. He made the jump to MLB last offseason and had a successful rookie season with the Chicago Cubs in 2022. He spent the first nine years of his career with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan.
Slugger Munetaka Murakami and righty Roki Sasaki are on Japan's WBC roster in addition to Darvish, Ohtani, and Suzuki. Murakami hit 56 home runs in 2022, breaking Sadaharu Oh's long-standing record for a Japanese-born player. Sasaki threw a 19-strikeout perfect game last April.
Japan won the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics. The Dominican Republic won the 2013 event and the USA won in 2017. The WBC begins March 8 and will conclude with the championship game on March 21.
USA has thus far put together a star-studded roster that includes future Hall of Famers Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout.