Yu Darvish could have gone pro in 2004 when he first impressed MLB scouts as a teenager during his time in the U.S.
Now, some seven dominant seasons in Japan later, the right-hander is again considering the possibility of playing ball in America.
To do that, he will need to go through a process known as "posting." His agent or club will contact the commissioner, who will advise all 30 MLB teams of his interest. Clubs will then have four days to make their best offer to negotiate with Darvish in a silent auction. The winner will have 30 more days to then work out a contract.
But Darvish is not the only international prospect who will draw interest from big teams. Click on to see which other players from Asia and South America could make an impact in 2012.
Hisashi Iwakuma has 12 years of baseball experience behind him, and he is considered one of the top pitchers likely to come out of Japan in 2012.
The 30-year-old has battled shoulder, elbow and oblique injuries during his career, but after averaging 190 innings between 2008 and 2010, he was sidelined for more than three months with a new shoulder problem this year.
At 6'3", Iwakuma brings a mid 90s fastball, a two-seamer, a slider and a splitter, according to NPB Tracker.
An ESPN article also detailed his ability to induce a high number of ground balls with an array of off-speed pitches featuring late movement caused by a higher arm slot.
The A's won the bidding rights to negotiate with Iwakuma last season, but the deal fell through. Now a free agent, expect him to command big money again next year. It will be interesting to see if his injury detracts from his earning potential in the majors.
Yakult Swallows center fielder Norichika Aoki has petitioned his team to post him, according to Toshiyuki Tachimatsu of The Mainichi Daily News and reported by NPB Tracker.
The 29-year-old is one of only four player to collect 200 hits in a single season, according to his Wikipedia page.
Aoki is a seven-time All-Star, a six-time Gold Glove winner and a three-time batting champion. He combines power and speed, and he has the ability to hit for a high average.
He has averaged .335 with 25 steals and 15 homers over the last five years; combined with his defense, that makes him one of the best five-tool prospects in Japan today.
Patrick Newman at NPB Tracker reports that Wei-Yin Chen's agent included a free-agency clause in his contract last season, opening the door for a move to the U.S. in 2012.
The 26-year-old left-hander from Taiwan has apparently lost a little giddy-up on his fastball, but he still has plus command and a solid slider. Newman said when he watched Chen pitch this year, he appeared to "trade velocity for pitchability."
Chen debuted with the Chunichi Dragons in 2005 and has been a full-time starter there since 2008. Over the last four years he has gone 36-30, leading the league with a 1.54 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 2009. According to Wikipedia, it was the lowest ERA in four decades.
In an article posted in the Chunichi Shimbun last month, Chen was 50/50 on posting.
SoftBank Hawks middle infielder Munenori Kawasaki trains with Ichiro during the offseason and profiles as a slap hitter with above-average speed and a plus-plus glove.
The left-hander is a career .294 hitter, and he has averaged almost 30 steals a year over the last decade.
According to NPB Tracker, one Seattle Mariners scout said that if he can hit .250 in the majors, his other tools will be enough to help him stick around.
As a utility infielder, he will garner some attention, but light-hitting shortstops are not the biggest draws.
The Japan Times reported on Wednesday that Kawasaki will aim to move to the major leagues as a free agent and that he has already completed the free-agency procedures. They predict he will announce his decision on Thursday.
Kawasaki was drafted in the fourth round in 2000 and became SoftBank's regular shortstop from 2003. He claimed the stolen bases title (42) and the title for most hits (171) in 2004.
Tsuyoshi Wada is a 30-year-old left-handed starting pitcher for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
Wada throws from a three-quarters arm angle with a deceptive delivery, with SI.com reporting he utilizes a mid to high 80s fastball, a slider and a change.
He won a gold medal at the 2006 World Baseball Classic and a bronze medal with Japan at the '04 Olympics in Athens.
With elbow surgery a thing of the past, Wada won a league-high 17 games last season with a 3.14 ERA, almost a full run below the league average. He also struck out 169 batters, his highest total since his rookie year in 2002, while allowing just 11 homers in 169.1 innings, the fewest long balls he has allowed in his career.
This year, he posted a sparkling 1.80 ERA with 146 Ks over 154 frames.
Suk-Min Yoon is a 25-year-old pitcher with the Kia Tigers playing in the Korea Baseball Organization.
A converted reliever, Yoon holds a 61-45 record with a career 3.28 ERA and 36 saves. He won gold medals at the 2010 Asian Games and 2008 Olympics, a silver at the 2009 World Baseball Classic and a bronze at the 2006 Asian Games.
In '08 he led the league in ERA (2.33) and WHIP (1.05), and the following year he won a Korean Series championship. This season he took home the MVP.
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo!, the Korean right-hander has hired agent Scott Boras and could be posted in time to play in MLB in 2012.
Yoon has a heater that hits the low 90s, and he also throws a changeup and a hard slider. He posted a 2.45 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 172.1 innings this season.
Yoennis Cespedes defected from Cuba to the Dominican Republic this year and became an Internet sensation when his workout showcase went viral.
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus said Cespedes was "arguably the best all-around player to come out of Cuba in a generation," while the Newark Star-Ledger's Marc Craig said the Yankees were one of the front-runners for his services.
The YouTube video highlights a 45-inch vertical jump, a 6.3-second 60-yard sprint, a 350-pound bench press and a 1,300-pound leg press with two of his buddies sitting on the weights. Oh, and there are multiple slow-mo replays of his majestic home run blasts.
His swing is explosive and effortless, but the workouts dominate the video, and game footage is lacking.
Philly Inquirer writer Bob Brookover said, "the bidding is expected to rival the six-year, $30.25 million contract" the Cincinnati Reds gave Aroldis Chapman.
The bidding for Cuba's single-season home run record holder could get crazy.
Yu Darvish is considered the No. 1 pitching prospect in Japan right now. Whether he decides to test the MLB waters still remains to be seen.
His father told NPB Tracker that he is "50-50" and that they will talk things over at a family meeting in the coming weeks.
Darvish attended junior high school in America, but he returned to Japan for high school and quickly became a star.
The Anaheim Angels, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and L.A. Dodgers all took an interest in the 18-year-old pitcher back in 2004, but Darvish chose to stay in Japan and sign with the Nippon Ham Fighters.
Since then, he has compiled a 93-38 record with a sub-2.00 ERA and almost 1,300 strikeouts. His accolades in Japan speak for themselves: He won the Pacific League MVP in 2007 and '09 and has been named to the All-Star team five times. He has led the league in ERA in two of the last three years and in strikeouts three times in the last five.
At the World Baseball Classic, the 220-pound, 6'5" hurler showed off a four- and two-seam fastball, a curve, a cutter and a changeup. The Japan Times also praises his big-breaking slurve.