Since 1964, when San Francisco Giants reliever Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese born player to play in Major League Baseball there has been a plethora of talent to come over from Japan. It has been common to have Japanese superstars take the major leagues by storm year in and year out. With household names like Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Hideo Nomo making huge impacts on the game of baseball, more MLB teams are starting to scout in Japan to find their next potential superstar.
Shohei Otani: The Japanese Phenom
One name that should be on the top of all GM’s wish list is Shohei Otani. The 22 year-old Japanese RHP is having another stellar season for the Nippon Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball. Otani currently is 8-4 with a 2.02 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 116 innings pitched. Not to mention he is also hitting .340 with 20 homers, who is the DH about three times a week when he is not on the mound.
Otani is one of the most intriguing international prospect since the signing of Boston Red Sox prospect Yoan Moncada. Otani is an interesting prospect based on his desire to play in the major leagues at such an early age. Ordinarily Japanese prospects play in the NPB and if they do come to the major leagues they wait until their respected team posts them for a bidding war for MLB teams. In Otani’s case he was close to signing with a MLB team at the early age of 18, instead he was talked into staying in Japan and signing a contract with the Ham Fighters who drafted him first overall in the NPB draft. After another dominant year in Japan, don’t be surprised to see Otani get posted this winter resulting in a free agent frenzy. Almost all MLB teams will at least inquire about the 22 year-old ace but especially NL teams, with Otani having a strong desire to continue to hit. Expect teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers (the Dodgers were reportedly close to signing Otani in 2012), Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, and the New York Yankees to make a strong push to sign Otani once he is posted.
An Otani deal this winter has the potential to be the largest international signing bonus in MLB history, and expect Otani to have a signing bonus of anywhere from $7-$10 million. Many scouts compare Otani to Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish because of the striking similarities in their deliveries. With a fastball that consistently touches 96-102 MPH, a wipe out 11-5 curveball, a devastating splitter, and a hard late moving slider, Otani could easily be a top two guy in a rotation for a number of MLB teams.
With a poor free agent class this winter, expect Otani to be the main attraction at the winter meetings. Only time will tell when the prodigy will be able to come over to the United States, but when he does his impact will be tremendous on whichever team he signs with.
Watch the footage of the future MLB ace below, you won’t regret it: