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Coming to America? Japanese Phenom Shohei Otani

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Shohei Otani
Shohei Otani
Chung Sung-Jun

Japanese Pitching Prospect Shohei Otani

The big news on the international prospect front right now is from Japan, where high school pitcher Shohei Otani is reportedly going to pursue a career in Major League Baseball, rather than pitching for a Japanese team.

Otani is a 6-4, 190 pound right-hander. He's quite athletic and projectable, which is very interesting because he already throws quite hard, in the mid-to-upper-90s. If he adds further size and/or strength, he'd have one of the best fastballs in the game. Otani's secondary pitches are under development but he shows some diversity, working with a slider, curveball, and a splitter. His command is inconsistent and his performances can be uneven, but that is hardly unexpected given his age, and he has the physical ceiling of a number one starter. He is also a good hitter.

The most detailed report I've read is from Patrick Newman at NPB Tracker. Check it out; there's lots of good juice there, with Newman drawing from Japanese-language sources.

The teams with the greatest interest are reportedly the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Rangers. According to Jim Callis over at Baseball America, Dodgers Assistant GM Logan White commented in Japan that Otani would be the top player picked if he was eligible for the regular baseball draft.

As it is, he'll be on the open market with any team (in theory) getting a shot at signing him, though the $2,900,000 cap under the new CBA would apply. Given Otani's talent, some teams would likely be willing to go past the cap and accept the financial penalty. If White is right and Otani would be the first player picked in a 2013 draft, that would make him the best high school pitcher in the world.

I'm consulting some sources and if I come up with anything in addition to what has already been publically reported, I'll let you know. From everything I've seen and heard, Otani compares well with Yu Darvish at the same stage of his career. Darvish had more polish, but Otani throws harder.

Here is a 14-minute video of Otani in action. Check out the rotation on that breaking ball. He's got some command issues but the talent here is obvious. Interesting highlights: his reaction to the wild pitch at 2:40; a 99 MPH fastball at 7:58; breaking ball at 8:13; breaking ball at 8:37; splitter? at 8:42; Otani hitting at 11:25.