The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks are closing in on a precedent-setting deal with amateur pitcher Carter Stewart, a No. 1 pick in Major League Baseball’s 2018 draft, a source knowledgeable of the negotiation said Wednesday.
If the 19-year-old Stewart signs with SoftBank, he will be the first marquee American amateur to turn pro in Nippon Professional Baseball.
According to the source, the Hawks are looking at the acquisition as a long-term project with a chance he might play his entire career in Japan, while leaving some flexibility for both parties.
Stewart was selected by the Atlanta Braves with the eighth overall pick in last year’s June draft, but the two sides could not agree to contract terms after an MRI examination found potential issues with the pitcher’s right wrist.
The Braves later offered the pitcher a signing bonus of around $2 million while he was asking double that, according to MLB.com‘s Mark Bowman.
At the 2018 winter meetings last December, Stewart’s agent Scott Boras said, “You’d like to see (NPB) greater involved than what it is. I think it’s very wise for the Japanese teams to take a look at amateurs.”
The SoftBank deal currently being reported by multiple American media outlets is for six years at $7 million. After playing a season in junior college ball, Stevens is expected to go high in the upcoming MLB draft, but a $7 million contract with the Hawks would likely exceed what he could earn in minor league baseball and the majors over that period.
In the past, Boras cited NPB as a potential landing site for two clients, Brien Taylor and Stephen Strasburg, in order to increase the value of offers from teams picking them in the draft. Although Strasburg signed with the Washington Nationals for a record $15.1 million, those negotiating ploys were essentially toothless since Japanese teams could not come close to matching that kind of money.
But that is no longer the case. Since 2012, the amount MLB teams can spend on domestic and international amateurs has been sharply curtailed. Because of those limits, top amateurs are now within the budget of NPB clubs, who have no spending restrictions on international talent.
The news of Carter’s deal with the Hawks was first reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.