With Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) amateur draft to be held on Thursday, we will finally gain insight into what the immediate future holds for 18-year-old Shohei Otani.
Originally reported by the Associated Press via ESPN.com earlier this week, Otani captured headlines when he expressed his desire to sign with an MLB organization rather than pitch professionally in Japan, and he urged potential NPB suitors not to draft him on Thursday.
While some scouts predict that Otani warrants a No. 1 overall selection, others aren’t even convinced that he’s the country’s top pitching prospect.
However, even if the right-hander is selected in the NPB draft, it still wouldn’t prevent him from inking a contract with an MLB team—though it would delay the process by several months.
As I highlighted in my profile and scouting report of Otani on Monday—courtesy of scouting notes from NPBTracker.com’s Patrick Newman—the 6’4”, 190-pound right-hander has the makings of a big league power pitcher with a physical yet durable frame and one hell of an arm.
Since news of Otani’s big league aspirations emerged less than a week ago, everyone has compared him to the Rangers’ Yu Darvish, understandably. Coming out of high school, Darvish, like Otani, was regarded as one of Japan’s elite pitching prospects.
While both pitchers are tall right-handers —Darvish is 6’5”—some scouts, such as Baseball America’s Ben Badler, believe that Otani possesses more physical strength (especially in his lower half) than Darvish did at that age.
Even though he boasts plus velocity on his fastball, Otani’s command of the pitch, as well as his three (slider, curveball and splitter) secondary offerings, lags well behind Darvish’s overall polish coming out of high school.
Considering the result of the 2012 draft in June and the subsequent early return of those players, Otani strikes me as a prospect who would have received top-10 consideration but ultimately slipped to the late or even supplemental first round.
With one plus pitch and tenuous command of his four-pitch arsenal, it’s hard to believe that the right-hander would have been selected before Max Fried (No. 7, Padres), Nick Travieso (No. 14, Reds), Lucas Giolito (No. 16, Nationals), Lucas Sims (No. 21, Braves) or even Ty Hensley (No. 30, Yankees).
At this point in their respective careers, predicting which Japanese right-hander will enjoy a strong career in the major leagues would be pure speculation. Until I’ve seen Otani throw against minor league hitters—preferably at a full-season level—I'll try to refrain from comparing their overall potential.
Whether he signs with an NPB or MLB organization, the 18-year-old’s future is unquestionably bright. And as the sweepstakes for the right-hander plays out this offseason—with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers expected to be the most interested—we should gain a better understanding of how he’s perceived by different organizations.