18 year old Japanese pitcher Shohei Otani has announced that he hopes to be the first Japanese player to come to the MLB straight out of school. And to me, it makes perfect sense for us to pursue him extensively this offseason.
Several scouting reports have said that he can sit in the mid-to-upper 90s, with a couple different breaking balls to go along with the heat. The balls in Japan are a little smaller though, and tend to increase the velocity a bit. Yu Darvish saw his velocity decrease 3-5 mph when he came over. That being said, he stands at 6’4″ and has a great pitchers build. He should definitely be able to add velocity as he gets older and fills out a little more, which could put him back in the 94-96 range in the future.
He has drawn comparisons to Aroldis Chapman, and while I see why, I don’t think it is a great comparison. Chapman throws straight 100 mph heat, whereas Otani figures to use his breaking pitches a little more, like Japanese pitchers tend to do, and not totally rely on the fastball.
Due to the fact that he has yet to play professionally in Japan, he does not require a posting fee like other intentional free agents do. That saves a lot of money for the signing team, and the international free agent max is only $2.9 million. Teams can exceed that, but face various penalties for doing so.
There is one small setback however. He was drafted by the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese league on Thursday, and it could delay his signing date. He is not required to sign with them though, and could and will still come to the MLB this year. There seem to be conflicting reports on whether or not he has to wait until March to negotiate with MLB teams, or if that just applies to other NPL teams.
While the Mariners have not been linked to him, we have come to learn that that usually doesn’t mean a thing. It seems a team come out of nowhere and signs the big names, as seen with Prince and Pujols last year. We also know that the Mariners front office likes to keep things top secret whenever possible, and we don’t get as many rumors as other teams do.
I think our passed success with Japanese players, having signed two last year and others like Ichiro and Kaz Sasaki in the past, means we have a decent shot at getting Otani. He will most likely prefer the west coast, and might be a Mariners fan due to Ichiro or Iwakuma. Heck, that’s the reason Kawasaki came here last year, to play with Ichiro. And while Ichiro is no longer with the team, it still may mean something to Otani.
Bringing him in also makes it a little easier to part with one of the Big Three to acquire a bat. While pitching is generally referred to as the strength of the farm system, it gets a little thin after them. Having another potential #2-3 starter in the organization would make me much more open to trading Paxton, or even Hultzen and Walker in the right situation.
This move makes too much sense not to pursue as much as possible. Obviously it comes down to Shohei in the end, but there is no reason we should not be all in on such a big talent at such a reasonable price.