What is in Shohei Otani's future?

Shohei Otani of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters is more than just the latest Japanese pitching sensation. That’s because he can do more than simply beat a team with his arm. He can also beat opponents with his bat.

While his career slash line of .251/.306/.450 is unremarkable, he’s becoming more of an offensive threat recently. Otani is hitting to the tune of a .308 batting average, with a .362 on-base percentage and slugging percentage of .654. The 21-year-old has gone deep five times already in 2016 and has hit twenty-three bombs overall in his career.

Even though his incredible talent could be an asset to any MLB club, Otani is in a pickle. There’s no doubt he would become a hot commodity for general managers in a future winter. Jim Allen of the Kyodo News tweeted from a source on May 7 that Otani would be willing to play in the Majors if he could be used as both a hitter and a pitcher. A scout from an A.L. club told the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo in February, “He can do both. He’s going to have to make a choice. Either way he’s going to be an All-Star-caliber player as a hitter or pitcher.”

He has been a tough-luck pitcher so far. The right-hander is currently 1-3, boasting a very respectable 3.02 ERA. Otani can rack up the strikeouts, collecting fifty-eight of them thru 50.2 innings of work. The first win he got came on May 1, in a ten strikeout, complete game effort at the expense of a Chiba Lotte Marines in a 9-4 triumph.

In 2014, Otani tied former MLB reliever Marc Kroon for the fatest pitch ever delivered in Nippon Professional Baseball. On his second pitch in a match against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Otani, then 20, clocked in at 101 MPH, giving him the fastest speed ever in the regular season. He wasn’t finished throwing smoke. Otani equaled that velocity on three more occasions and hit at least 99 MPH seventeen times that outing.

It is currently unknown when, or if, this phenomenal talent will be posted by the Fighters. According to a November 2015 piece from FanGraphs, the $20 million posting cap gives his NPB team little incentive to let him negotiate with an MLB squad. Given how logistical this is, it’s possible Otani may not see the majors until 2020. Still, once he is on the market, expect a fury of attention (and cash) to be thrown his way.

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