The Next Japanese Phenom: Shohei Otani

Shohei Otani, a 18-year-old with an upper-90s fastball, made his Nippon Pro Baseball debut this morning for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. And yeah, I was up at 5AM to watch it.

mlb_g_otani_600Otani has already made plenty of news in Japan. After his impressive high school career Shohei announced that he would skip the Nippon League altogether, therefore bypassing the posting system and sign with a Major League organization. The Red Sox, Rangers, Yankees, Dodgers, and Orioles were all said to be interested.

Otani told the NPB clubs not to bother drafting him because he wouldn’t sign. The Fighters selected him in the first round anyway, after which Otani said, “I’m grateful that they appreciate me, but it doesn’t change my desire to play in America”.

Then, due to cultural and family pressures, and the possibility of some shady back-room dealings, Otani agreed to a deal with Hokkaido Nippon-Ham.

Here’s a little write-up of what I saw this morning….

The 6’4″, 190 lb right-hander threw 5 innings today, allowed six hits, two runs, three walks and struck out two. Wearing Yu Darvish‘s #11, Otani showed some outstanding velocity but is clearly in need of some refinements. He stuggled with his control at times and lacked an effective put-away pitch.

Otani is athletic and has a fluid delivery that produced a 90-98 mph fastball. He used a slurvy slider (76-83 mph) as his second pitch, breaking it away from right-handed hitters and trying to backdoor it to lefties. Shohei flipped a couple of 63 mph curveballs as well. The uber-prospect did not throw any splitters, a pitch that almost every Japanese pitcher features. In fact, Otani didn’t show any type of offspeed pitch at all.

[ fastball(90-98), slider(76-83), curve(63) ]

After a few years working on his craft in the NPB, MLB teams may come calling again. Will the Mets be one of them?