NEWPORT, BEACH CALIFORNIA - Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks signee Carter Stewart said Thursday he has a “fantastic opportunity” starting his professional baseball career in Japan.
The first marquee American amateur to turn pro in Nippon Professional Baseball, the 19-year-old pitcher has signed a six-year deal with the Hawks that will guarantee him as much as $7 million.
Speaking to reporters before his departure from the United States, the Florida native said he felt confident in his groundbreaking decision to play across the Pacific.
“I made the decision that felt like it was the best for me at the time,” said Stewart, who is set to be introduced by the Hawks in Fukuoka on Monday. “The more I talked about it, the more it came to me that it was a great idea and I loved it.”
The right-hander was selected eighth overall by the Atlanta Braves in last year’s draft out of high school, but he did not receive a satisfactory contract offer from the National League club, according to his management.
Stewart was 2-2 with a 1.70 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 74-1/3 innings this season at Eastern Florida State College.
He began negotiating with the Hawks after they approached him at the start of the year. Stewart, who visited Japan before deciding to join the Pacific League club, said he had been impressed by the approach to baseball in the country.
“You can tell the pride they take in their players,” he said. “They spend a lot of time with each individual player and you can tell that each is getting good work.”
Stewart’s agent Scott Boras said the pitcher had the right mindset to adapt to life on and off the field in Japan.
“How Carter pitches, he has a soul that is well beyond his age. His learning aptitude is extraordinary,” Boras said.
Stewart will pitch in the Hawks’ farm system the remainder of this season, but could be ready for the top tier by next year, general manager Sugihiko Mikasa said.