Japanese high school star gaining “most-wanted” stature

Shohei Otani has his sights set on playing for an MLB team next season. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Not many high school pitchers can throw 100 mph. Flame-throwing ability usually takes time to develop.

Japan’s 18-year old Shohei Otani is a rare exception.

Otani was the first pick Thurday in the Nippon Professional Baseball draft by Yu Darvish’s former team, the Nippon Ham Fighters. Even though he was selected, Otani plans to play Major League Baseball haven’t changed. No rules prevent a major league team from negotiating with Otani, but Major League Baseball has a gentlemen’s agreement in place with the NPB to stand back during the exclusive negotiating period. This means no MLB organization will be able to sign him before April 2013.

Last week, it was reported the high school pitcher will forgo a career in Japanese professional baseball and test his luck in the states. Otani will be the first drafted Japanese player to have ever started his career in Major League Baseball, instead of signing on to a professional Japanese organization.

Teams have already began courting the Japanese phenom. The Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers were the first to speak with him, and there won’t be too many others to follow. Due to the league’s collective bargaining agreement that materialized before the 2012 season, each team has a $2.9 million signing salary cap for players in the international free-agent pool. This only puts a handful of teams left in the running for Otani, who have enough cap space left. This offseason’s crop of less-than-desirable free-agent pitchers makes Otani all the more tempting:

Zack Greinke, 29, RHP (Angels)
Kyle Lohse, 34, RHP (Cardinals)
Jake Peavy, 31, RHP (White Sox)
Anibal Sanchez, 28, RHP (Tigers)
Hiroki Kuroda, 37, RHP (Yankees)

At 6’-4” and 190 lbs, Otani will instantly remind some of former Japanese pioneer Hideo Nomo and possible Rookie of the Year Darvish. They are very comparable in terms of the hype that surrounds them and body frame, but in fact they couldn’t be more different. If anyone were to compare Otani’s skill set to any pitcher, it would have to be that of Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh. That’s right. A character famously portrayed by Tim Robbins in the movie Bull Durham. While Otani can put fear in even the best hitters, he can just as well scare them off with his wild pitches.

By now, you’ve probably seen the Otani video. It’s probably been viewed by every major league scout. In the game, Otani struck out 11, walked 11 and gave up nine runs in the loss.

From this video and other scouting reports, Otani is described as “very raw.” His pitches show a good mix of speed and devastating movement, but clearly lack overall control. He’s going to need his own “Annie Savoy,” or at the very least a good pitching coach to settle him down. If not, we’re going to have the second-coming of Rick Ankiel on our hands.

Any team that signs the Northern Japan native will do so for the future. He does not have the “now” factor like Darvish did. Otani is a project, and will need at least a year or two in the farm system to develop. On the other hand, any team that does sign him will have a special pitcher on their hands.

Related Articles

Back to top button