High school pitcher Otani set for majors

Kyodo

Shohei Otani will become the first potential top draft pick to make the direct jump from a Japanese high school to the major leagues after the right-hander announced his decision to play in the United States on Sunday.

“It was a difficult decision,” said Otani. “There was a conflict of opinions between me and my parents and the people around me and I was in two minds. I fretted about it so I am relieved. I am glad I was able to stick to my guns.”

Otani, the 18-year-old for Hanamaki Higashi High School armed with a fastball clocked at 160 km per hour, has met with three major league teams — the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers — and the Baltimore Orioles have also been reported as potential suitors.

“I think I will start in the minor leagues, but I want to challenge in the majors,” said Otani. “It has been my dream since entering high school. I felt that I wanted to go (to the majors) while I was still young. I have admiration for Japanese pro baseball too, but more so for the major leagues.

“I looked at pro baseball and the players playing in the major leagues and thought that is what I want to do. Now I want to become the kind of player that people watch and think the same thing,” he said.

The 193-cm Otani was expected to go in the first round of Thursday’s amateur draft had he decided to enter, after meeting with representatives from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Logan White, an assistant general manager with the Dodgers, said recently that were Otani an American high school pitcher, he would be a top draft pick in the major league draft.

Otani played for the Japan national team at this summer’s under-18 world championships. He appeared in the National High School Championships last year, as well as the national invitational this spring.

The news comes three years after Hanamaki Higashi lefty Yusei Kikuchi turned down several clubs from the majors. Kikuchi was eventually drafted and signed by the Seibu Lions.

Boston right-hander Junichi Tazawa was the first amateur blue chip to directly sign with a major league team in 2008, when he left his corporate league team to play for the Red Sox.