Nippon-Ham Fighters draft Shohei Otani

Shohei Otani, the 18-year-old right-handed pitcher that announced Sunday that he intends to come to the United States to begin his minor-league career with the hopes of making the big leagues, was drafted by the Nippon-Ham Fighters on Thursday.

It's not surprising that a NPB team would take him and the Nippon-Ham Fighters, the team that Yu Darvish played for prior to joining the Texas Rangers last offseason, did so with the first pick in today's draft.

"My feelings haven't changed," Otani told the media, as quoted in an Associated Press story. "I'm grateful that they appreciate me, but it doesn't change my desire to play in America."

The Rangers are one of three teams that met with Otani and have scouted him extensively. But there are several more teams interested in the 18-year-old, who has a fastball in the upper 90s. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox have also been linked to Otani.

UPDATE: The Fighters would like to sign Otani, but by drafting him, it doesn't mean he has to wait until the end of March to decide which MLB organization he wants to join. It does mean no other team in Japan can sign him before the end of March but the Fighters. But Otani says he's going to play for an MLB organization.

As we've noted earlier, Patrick Newman does a great job covering the NPB and has information on Otani on his website here.