Eighteen-year-old Shohei Otani has a chance to make history this week with Japan’s annual amateur draft scheduled for Thursday. However, it’s not because the 6’4” right-hander will be the No. 1 overall pick, as expected.
Rather, Otani announced in a recent press conference that he will not sign with a Japanese organization when drafted, choosing to begin a career in Major League Baseball instead (via the Associated Press on ESPN.com).
“I think I will start in the minor leagues but I want to challenge in the majors. It’s been my dream since entering high school,” Otani confidently told media outlets.
The first thing that you will read about is that his fastball has reached triple digits, which, while it may be true, is nonetheless misleading. The report stems from the video you see below, in which Otani pops 160 kmh (99.4 mph) on the radar gun with his final pitch of the inning. Although the video may be one of the more impressive clips to surface since Dylan Bundy’s workout video or Yoenis Cespedes’ infamous “The Showcase,” it’s not a fair representation of the 18-year-old.
I’ve only seen one Otani pitch one full game, his appearance in this spring’s Koshien Senbatsu tournament against fellow draft phenom Shintaro Fujinami. It was a frustrating game to watch, as the raw quality of Otani’s stuff was evident, but his command was non-existent. He featured a fastball ranging from about 145-152 km/h (90-95 mph), a slider around 132-136 km/h (82-84 mph) and curve around 125 km/h (77 mph). Everything had movement, and his wildness was of the effective variety until the 6th inning, when he and his defense faltered, before melting down (video) in the 7th. For the day, Otani struck out 11, walked 11 and gave up nine runs (five earned) while taking the loss. That looks bad, but Otani was facing a quality lineup with aluminum bats on a big stage, and his manager left him out for 173 pitches. The raw talent is there, but it was clearly just that in that game – raw.
Newman goes on to state that while Otani is undoubtedly an elite prospect with an arsenal of potential plus pitches, the 18-year-old is still incredibly raw with, at times, concerning issues with his command.
As part of Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement that was implemented prior to the 2012 season, each organization is subject to a $2.9 million signing cap for players from the international free-agent pool.
Because most teams made smaller signings during the normal international free-agent signing period in July, there only a few organizations that have both the remaining cap space and capital to partake in the Otani sweepstakes.
According to Newman, he’s already met with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers—although the report from the Associated Press excluded the latter—and it’s likely he’ll end up with one of those organizations.
The Dodgers made a huge sign when they inked 21-year-old outfielder Yasiel Puig to a six-year, $42 million in July, but did so just days before the new spending limitation was implemented.
Similarly, the Red Sox signed Taiwanese shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin and Dominican pitcher Jose Almonte, while the Rangers inked outfielder Jairo Beras for $4.5 million last February. Although it was ultimately determined that Beras misrepresented his age as 17—and evaded the new international signing rules—Major League Baseball approved the deal and allowed the Rangers to retain the full $2.9 million salary cap.
It’s hard to say which of those organizations are truly interested at the moment, but I’m sure more information will be made available as Thursday’s Japanese amateur draft approaches.
Lead image courtesy of MLB.com.