Just one year removed from all of the offseason fanfare of acquiring Yu Darvish, the Texas Rangers are in the mix for another Japanese pitcher. But this one is a lot younger -- 18 years old -- and is involved in a much different process to get to the big leagues than Darvish was in 2011.
Shohei Otani, a right-handed pitcher listed as 6-foot-4 in various reports, announced Sunday that he is going to sign with a big league organization instead of remaining in Japan to play. Reports note that Otani has met with three clubs (the Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers) and has been contacted by a handful of others, though he appears to be leaning toward signing with one of the three.
"I think I will start in the minor leagues, but I want to challenge in the majors," Otani told a group of reporters in Japan, including the Associated Press. "It's been my dream since entering high school."
One scout said Otani throws around 97 mph and can touch higher than that, is "very athletic," but doesn't have the polish that Darvish did when he was that age. Still, he's considered a prospect with a high ceiling and the idea of acquiring him through the international signing pool money rather than an expensive bidding process has club's interested.
Unlike Darvish, who played in the Nippon Professional Baseball league (NPB), Otani wouldn't be posted. He can sign as a free agent and then work his way through the minor league system here. The Rangers have met with him, sending a small contingent of folks that helped bring Darvish to the United States nearly a year ago.
Otani is not expected to do anything until after the NPB draft, which is Thursday. Each MLB team has $2.9 million they can use to sign international players, so we'll see how much each team has to spend and what they're willing to pay Otani.
Oh, and apparently he threw 99 mph in a high school game (there's some video here too).
If you want to know more about him and his scouting report, check out this blog written by Patrick Newman (NPB Tracker). Here's part of what's written there by someone who follows baseball in Japan.
I first found out about Otani about a year ago, when Yakyu Kozoh had a story on potential successors to Yu Darvish. Otani caught my eye because he graded a perfect 5/5 “Darvishes” and, at 17, he was the youngest pitcher profiled. Every tall, young righty elicits some kind of comparison to Darvish from the Japanese media, so Otani is not unique in that regard. What is a little more unique is that in terms of physique and ability, the comparison stands up reasonably well. At 193 cm (6’4) and 86 kg (189 lbs), Otani measures similarly to Darvish, though a little shorter and perhaps a little heavier than Darvish was at 18. Otani also has a similarly live arm, though with a little more velocity and a lot less polish than Darvish exhibited as a high schooler.