ESPN has a story up today that might well get lost in the shuffle of the playoffs, John Farrell and the three-way trade, but could end up having some fairly significant ramifications. Shohei Otani is an 18 year old pitcher currently playing for his Japanese high school team and it seems he’s regarded highly enough to be seen as a first round pick in their amateur draft which takes place next week. Unfortunately for the Japanese teams looking at picking him, it seems Otani would rather make an immediate leap to the U.S and Major League Baseball.
If Otani goes ahead with his plan, he would be the first Japanese player to move to the U.S straight from school and would set a precedent that would likely be a serious concern for baseball in Japan. Although it would appear to be too late to stop Otani skipping the draft, tt would be no surprise to see Japanese clubs try to find a way to block players from following in his footsteps. It’s clearly no good for Japanese baseball to have their top talents bypass the draft and go straight to an MLB club. Whether any ruling would be legally enforceable is questionable, but even if something was put in place the next logical step for players wanting to go to America would be to make the move even younger and attend an American high school and try and become draft-eligible.
Otani has apparently been scouted by major league teams and has the ability to hit 100 mph with his fastball so he’s clearly the sort of pitcher, however raw, that MLB teams would be interested in adding to their system. If he starts a trend of Japanese high schoolers skipping their domestic draft to move to the U.S it’s entirely possible we may see a wave of Japanese players making an impact in MLB. Getting them into MLB team’s minor league set ups as early as possible can only lead to better player development. The effect such a trend would have on Japanese baseball could, however, be devastating.