In the past week their has been a lot of buzz regarding Japanese pitching phenom Shohei Otani. At 6' 4", Otani has the ideal pitchers frame and has a fastball that can touch triple digits. Otani was slated to be a top pick in Thursday's Nippon amateur draft but he has expressed desire to take his talents to the MLB. Earlier this week Otani said," “I think I will start in the minor leagues but I want to challenge myself in the majors. It’s been my dream since entering high school.” Otani will be the first Japanese prep player to make such a leap. If he is not drafted by a Nippon team he will begin negotiating with MLB teams on Friday. However, if he is selected then he will have to wait until March 31st. Currently the Red Sox, Dodgers, Rangers, and Yankees are reported to be in the lead for Otani's services. Dodgers assistant GM Logan white said that the 18-year-old right-hander had the potential to be the top pick in the MLB draft.
Otani is unique in that he will not be subject to the Japanese posting system. Clubs will not have to pay hefty fees in order to negotiate with Otani. Furthermore, since Otani is an amateur he will be affected by the new collective bargaining agreement. Teams are limited to a 2.9 million dollar cap to sign all of their international free agents. As a result, MLB teams will not be forced to give Ohani a deal like the 108 million dollar one that Yu Darvish received from the Rangers last winter. However Otani's elite talent may cause teams to blow bast the 2.9 million dollar cap. The penalties for a club that surpasses the international bonus threshold are not as harsh as those for the draft.
However, Otani is far from a finished product. Like most teenagers he struggles with command at times. In one outing last year he both walked and stuck out 11 batters. His secondary offerings also lag behind his fastball. While he throws a slider, curve, and splitter that all have the potential to develop into plus pitches, he sometimes labors to throw them with consistency. Furthermore, some scouts question whether or not Otani is even the best prep pitcher in his country. Many evaluators are partial to the more polished Shintaro Fujinama.
Personally, I would take a stab at signing Otani. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for any GM. No other young Japanese arm has been developed in the United States by an MLB organization. It will be intriguing to see how Otani compares to other Nippon studs like Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka. And for the price, you can not beat Otani's ceiling.