OFUNATO, IWATE PREF. – Flame-throwing high school pitcher Roki Sasaki said Wednesday he had registered for Nippon Professional Baseball’s Oct. 17 draft and suggested he would play for any team that drafted him.
The announcement, made during at a news conference in Iwate Prefecture, threw cold water on the hopes of major league scouts that Sasaki might snub NPB’s draft altogether and sign directly with a big league club.
“There are 12 (Japanese) teams, and I desire to do my best wherever I go,” the 190-cm 17-year-old said. “I want to become the kind of player who inspires children to dream and hope.”
Over a third of MLB’s 30 teams have been following Sasaki, some long before he threw a pitch in April that was clocked at 163 kph (101.3 mph) at a tryout camp for Japan’s Under-18 national team.
Two of NPB’s most powerful teams, the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants and the Pacific League’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, have so far refused to let players move to the majors before they become nine-year veteran free agents.
Sasaki could have announced he would wait until next June and then sign with a major league team, or he could have said he would only sign with a team that promises to post him. Although Sasaki could still refuse to sign with an NPB team and move directly to the majors next year, he gave no hint of that.