Out of Left Field: 大谷 翔平

Shohei Otani is one of the most exciting prospects to hit baseball in recent memory. The 22-year old is the ace of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters pitching staff, posting a 1.86 ERA this year and striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings. His best pitch is his fastball that tops 100 miles per hour. Otani is also one of the best batters in Japan’s Pacific League. The Fighters’ ace had 382 plate appearances this year and batted .322/.416/.588, slugging 22 home runs. Primarily a designated hitter, Otani has also played outfield on his off days. Otani led the Fighters to their third ever Japan Series Championship this year . Due to his tremendous two-way ability, the right-handed pitcher and left-handed batter has earned himself comparisons to Babe Ruth.

Now unfortunately Otani isn’t likely to be posted this year, in part because of MLB’s pool rules and personal financial reasons. Otani has only pitched four seasons in Japan (since he was 18!) which, if he came to America, would put him under international bonus pool restrictions, therefore limiting how much a team could pay him. Otani would either have to already have had five years in Japan or be 23 to avoid these restrictions – both requirements he will meet following next season. Coming to America this year would significantly hamper his earning potential.

Due to the international restrictions, an MLB team wanting to sign Otani would be forced to pay exorbitant fees, including a 100 percent tax on the signing bonus given to him. Unless the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which needs to be agreed upon by Dec. 1, changes the international signing rules, it appears likely that Otani will hold off another year before making his Major League debut.

It’s fun to look ahead though to when Otani actually comes over. The list of free agent starting pitchers after the 2017 season includes Jake Arrieta, Tyson Ross and Marco Estrada. Since some of these pitchers will receive extensions from their clubs, it’s shaping up to be just an alright free agent class, which aids Otani’s case. Teams looking to add pitching could potentially aim their sights overseas for the best free agent.

Teams that could afford the type of money Otani would require include the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals and Tigers. Otani has stated that he wants to sign with a team that would let him bat or play the field on days he isn’t pitching. His affinity for hitting would seem to push him in the direction of the National League, where the pitchers bat for themselves.

This would provide a huge boost for whatever team signs him, as traditionally the pitcher’s spot in the order is almost a sure out, unless you’re Madison Bumgarner or Bartolo Colon. I want nothing more than for Otani to continue his success from Japan as a two-way player. Baseball hasn’t really had a guy who pitches and hits at a high level since Babe Ruth. Shohei Otani represents an exciting experiment for baseball to see whether a player can do both in the modern era.


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