There is a 23-year-old baseball player in Japan with a 100-mph fastball, a low-90s split, high-80s slider and a career 2.57 ERA. He also has a.287 batting average with an .860 OPS in 395 games.
Rumor has it Shohei Otani could be on his way to MLB from the Pacific League’s Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters this offseason.
With a lost season essentially flushed down the pipe at home, San Francisco Giants’ GM Bobby Evans and Assistant GM Jeremy Shelley made their way to Japan to check out the Nippon Professional Baseball star themselves, said Bruce Bochy:
“It’s part of the scouting process that every club goes through. … We’re doing our due diligence, as they say.”
It’s essential that the worst team in the league see what’s up with arguably the most intriguing international prospect on the market.
The rub is that Otani doesn’t fit in any one big league mold. He’s projected to be a top of the rotation pitcher later in his career, according to anonymous scouts who’ve actually seen him pitch, but averages around 150 innings per year now.
When he’s not pitching, he’s putting his bat to good use as an outfielder — in both left and right field. In 56 games this year, Otani is slashing .341/.407/.533.
The Nippon Ham Fighters seem to be managing his talent nicely, maximizing his strong arm in a few innings all while squeezing a whole lot of power out of his bat. He’s strong on both ends, which Bochy said may not be the best fit for a National League team:
“I don’t think it would work. You’re talking more of something that might work more in the American League with the DH. That’s a lot of throwing and a lot of wear and tear where you have to go out and try to pitch. … It may work as a reliever, colleges do it, I could see where that could work if you want to make a late inning reliever, and you have a pretty good player here who did that in college.”
That player is Buster Posey, who famously played all nine positions as a Florida State Seminole in a game against Savannah State. Part of that included a two-out relief appearance followed by a stint in right field.
The Giants are in the bonus pool penalty for a second year, which means they have only $300,000 to spend on an individual international player.
Some American League teams, and maybe some National League ones, may have more money and a significant role to offer a star two-way player like Otani. But it would be ridiculous for the Giants not to take their shot.