I am certain you have heard of Lazaro Armentaros by now. While only 16 years old, Armentaros is looking to be the next impact talent to come out of Cuba. Not to be overshadowed, the Gurriel brothers, Yulieski and Lourde, are also trying to do the same. You’ve probably heard those names mentioned as well. However, on the other side of the world, another playing is drawing quite a bit of attention, and you may not have heard of him.
That player is Shohei Otani, a 21-year-old, 6’3’’ Japanese right hander who has already earned the nickname “The Fastball Prince” over in Japan.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) February 5, 2016
The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Nippon Professional Baseball League are currently using the Padres spring training facility in Peoria, AZ, and have played in several exhibition games in the first two weeks of this month. While there are quite a few notable players taking part, seemingly all eyes are on Otani and what he brings to the table.
While Otani has been one of the most dominant pitchers in not only Japan but the entire world over the last three years, he actually was seriously considering signing in the United States directly out of High School. Otani instead chose to stay in Japan, and he has had great success to this point.
Otani may be one of the most dominating pitchers in the world at this point, but he also moonlights as a very effective outfielder on top of his pitching dominance. In his NBP career, Otani has slashed 245/.300/.429 over 557 plate appearances. Those may not be the most eye-popping numbers, but for a pitcher by trade, that’s pretty remarkable.
Shohei Otani took BP yesterday in Peoria, AZ. Hit the 17 balls over the fence of his 76 swings. pic.twitter.com/FJAwGYtcXX
— Joseph Kim (@blackwings2011) February 3, 2016
Even with some talent at the plate, it is obvious that Otani holds the most value in his throwing arm. In 57 starts so far in his Japanese career, Otani has a career ERA of 2.72 in just over 377 total innings. Otani also sports a 3.2 BB/9 and 10.0 K/9. Overall, Otani has only played three years, but he has already had a very successful career in Japan. Most amazing of all is Otani’s ability to throw his fastball at 101-mph.
Otani is certainly a highly intriguing arm, and he is drawing quite a bit of interest from the scouts of many major league teams. There was said to be scouts from nearly every major league team in Peoria this week, as he pitched in several exhibition games. Given that he is pitching at the Padres complex, it’s safe to say that A.J. Preller and the Padres organization are certainly very interested.
However, there is a catch. At only 21 years old, it is still probably three or four years before Otani is posted by Nippon, and that’s likely the earliest possible timetable. Despite being a ways away from potentially playing in the big leagues, scouts are still keeping their eyes on Otani, for future purposes. The Padres are likely one of those teams, and rightfully so.
It’s clear that Otani sees playing in the majors as a possible future, but his team has him under control for several more years, and wouldn’t see the value in giving him up at this early stage, even for the $20 million posting fee. It’s much more likely that the team waits several more years until Otani is closer to free agency, and then let him test the MLB waters.
With the Padres increased interest in gaining an upper hand in the Japanese market, which is helped by hosting the Nippon team, the Padres could be serious players for Otani, and several other players over the next few years. New manager Andy Green has ties to Japan, as he played with the Nippon team in 2007, giving the Padres a leg up in that market. Add to that the Padres addition of Hideo Nomo to the organization on Thursday afternoon, and the Padres appear to be very serious about becoming more involved in the Pacific Rim market. With Otani still several years away, now is as good a time as any for the Padres to make a strong impression. So far, so good.