The 18-year old Japanese pitcher Shohei Otani has declared he wants to play in MLB. Had Otani gone through the Nippon League draft he would have been locked up for quite a few years until he could declare free agency and jump to MLB. His expressed interest in the MLB started before high school and he said it was always his dream to pitch here. The New York Yankees are among eight teams whose name has been thrown into the ring, including heavy interest from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. Could Otani be someone the Yankees will want to pursue despite their failed attempts with Japanese pitching before?
When the Yankees signed Kei Igawa and the late Hideki Irabu, their thoughts were that these two would provide quality starts. However, the expectations of these two players soon fell. Japanese pitchers have proven to be a risk to sign, with the exceptions of Hideo Nomo and Hiroki Kuroda. The Texas Rangers‘ Yu Darvish had what I would call a successful debut season with more to come. So, while these three have held their ground, can Otani? I think so, and the reason why is because he’ll be bred through the farm leagues before hitting the majors. Unlike most Japanese pitchers who are just thrown into the MLB, Otani will have the time to learn how to pitch in the minor leagues to power hitters and that can make a world of difference.
Otani is a 6’4″, 190 pound right-hander. He’s been compared to Felix Hernandez in many regards and has a fastball that touches 99-100 mph. To that though, he’s been noted as having issues with command and control. Since Otani has not been drafted by any Japanese team, MLB teams would not be required to make a posting fee for him. Otani has shown some promise from his high school days and to be compared to King Felix is something to be proud of.
What’s different is that not many Japanese pitchers skip pitching professionally in Japan after high school. Boston Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa is the rare case of a pitcher who went from high school to America and he’s been fairly successful over here aside from his Tommy John surgery. Obviously Otani won’t be offered a lot, maybe $1 million at most, but it’s only fair considering he’s never had a taste of professional baseball.
Now will the Yankees sign him? I doubt it, but honestly you never know with Brian Cashman. You have to take a look down the road about four or five years and see what our rotation would look like. CC Sabathia would be in his mid-30’s and if 2012 is any indication on how he’ll do from here on out, we’re going to need help. Andy Pettitte and Kuroda would more than likely be retired at that point. Phil Hughes may evolve into an even greater pitcher, but one man does not make a rotation. Ivan Nova may or may not be a lost cause if he keeps up his inconsistencies. As for the guys who have yet to make an impact, like Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances or even Double-A guys such as Mark Montgomery and Brett Marshall, who have done incredibly well, they may find themselves a huge part of this Yankee team in the future. That’s why the Yanks should at least consider what signing Otani means. It could add to the team or it could not, that’s the risk the Yankees have to investigate. Wherever Otani lands, he’s going to make a huge impact.