Hard-throwing righty Tazawa hopes to pitch in majors in 2009

TOKYO -- Junichi Tazawa, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher who wants to play in the major leagues, was passed over by Japan's 12 professional teams in Thursday's amateur draft.

Tazawa, whose fastball reaches 97 mph, had asked Japanese teams not to select him so that he could pursue a career in the United States.

"I'm very relieved," Tazawa said. "I was very nervous right up until the end of the draft."

Earlier this month, Japan's professional baseball teams agreed to introduce a ban on players who return to Japan after opting out of the amateur draft in order to play for overseas pro teams.

Executives of Japan's 12 professional teams decided to ban players who had graduated from high school from entering professional Japanese teams for three years after returning to Japan from overseas stints, and introduce a two-year ban for such players from university or company teams.

Several major league teams, including the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, scouted Tazawa while he led Nippon Oil to the corporate league championship this season.

No rule prevents American teams from pursuing Japanese amateurs, although current stars such as Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Red Sox made names for themselves playing in Japan's pro leagues.

Players in Japan's professional leagues must wait nine seasons before becoming free agents. Kazuhito Tadano and Mac Suzuki are the only Japanese players to have played in the major leagues without playing Japanese pro baseball.

Taishi Ota, a power-hitting high school infielder, was the top pick of both the Yomiuri Giants and Softbank Hawks in the draft. The Giants won the negotiating rights to Ota in a lottery.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.