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Nippon Ham picks 18-year-old Darvish

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters obtained the right to negotiate with 18-year-old Yu Darvish on Wednesday, naming the hard-throwing Tohoku high school pitcher in the first round of the amateur draft.

Darvish threw a no-hitter in the national high school baseball invitational tournament in March and has been dubbed the No. 1 high school right-hander with his fastball clocking over 150 kph.

“I’m honored to be selected,” said Darvish, whose father is Iranian and mother Japanese.

“With (Tsuyoshi) Shinjo on the team, Nippon Ham’s popularity is growing,” he said. However, Davish went to say that he would talk to his parents and former Tohoku high school manager (Masahiro Wako) before making a decision to sign with the Sapporo-based club.

Nippon Ham was one of four baseball clubs that opted not to make pre-draft arrangements designed to obtain negotiating rights with a limited number of top amateur players, mainly with collegiate and corporate teams, and was allowed to join the draft in the first round.

The three other teams — the Hiroshima Carp, Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and Seibu Lions — also selected high school pitchers. Hiroshima picked Tsuyoshi Sato of Akita Shogyo, Daiei named Tomoaki Egawa of Ujiyamada Shogyo and Seibu chose Yokohama high school pitcher Hideaki Wakui.

“Perfect. Better than 100 percent,” Nippon Ham general manager Shigeru Takada said. “We evaluate Darvish very highly as we believe he can be the team’s ace in the future as well as a top-class player in Japan.”

No lotteries were used for the first-round picks for the second consecutive year in the amateur draft.

Also, the Hanshin Tigers named pitcher Kento Tsujimoto in the eighth round, making the 15-year-old the youngest player to be picked in the annual draft which began in 1965. Tsujomoto returned to Japan last month after attending school in California.

Prior to Wednesday’s draft, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, who will join professional baseball next season, named right-hander Yasuhiro Ichiba in pre-draft arrangements and both sides have already agreed on a provisional contract.

Ichiba quit the Meiji University team this summer after it was revealed he received money from the Yomiuri Giants in violation of amateur draft eligibility rules. It was later discovered he also received money from the Yokohama BayStars and the Hanshin Tigers.

Teams that picked a maximum two players in the pre-draft acquisition system must skip the first three rounds of the draft while those who selected one player have to skip the first and third rounds.