Monday, December 10, 2012

Shohei Otani:The Latest Japanese Hot Commodity

Hideo Nomo was the first. Ichiro Suzuki has been the most successful and Yu Darvish, the latest. Of course, I am talking about Japanese players coming from their native professional league to become successful players in the USA. The newest player that is being coveted by MLB general managers is Shohei Otani. But unlike Nomo, Suzuki and Darvish et al, who were professional players while in Japan, The 18 year old Otani has not.  Otani has made it publicly known that he wants to play in the USA and had toyed with idea of coming straight to USA from high school. He would be the first ever to bypass Japanese professional league entirely to go play in USA.
The LA Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers all have reportedly shown interest in Otani. Dodgers considered by many to be the favorite to land the teenager.  Amid of the all US interest, Nippon Ham Fighters selected Otani 1st overall in NPB draft. Otani, who is 6'4" and has had his fastball clocked close to 100 mph, is being compared to Yu Darvish. Otani rewarded Nippon Ham Fighters's gamble by signing with them.

This is the right decision that will be beneficial for all parties involved. For Otani, he can develop into a productive major league starter in a more comfortable setting. By staying in his native Japan, he can follow the likes of Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hiroki Kuroda, Darvish, etc and work with fellow countrymen coaches and managers. They know how to work with Otani and develop him into a possible star as they did with aforementioned players. While all along, Otani can mature as a man and deal with ups and downs of a professional close to home.
For the Dodgers(or any other MLB team), by waiting, they will get a more of a refined product and be closer to a sure thing. It is a gamble for any MLB team to draft a 18 year old pitcher high, let alone one from a different country. Yes, many Hispanic players have signed to major league clubs as teenagers, played in the minors and become major league stars. But with Otani, he would likely be the only Japanese player on his minor league club. He would not have fellow countrymen to lean on or others who speak the same language as his Hispanic counterparts. Plus being so highly touted, he would have a fair amount of media coverage from Japan. By waiting, he can jump right into major leagues and have a better support system around him.
As for Nippon Professional League, they get to have the next possible star. NPL would be able to continue to draw big crowds for their superstar players. If Otani had immediate success in America as an 18 year old, other Japanese players could follow Otani's footsteps and skip professional baseball in Japan altogether also.  With less stars to follow, Japanese baseball fans could see the NPL as less viable option for the entertainment dollars.
As a fan of baseball in general, I like to see the game maintain or grow in popularity all over the world. It would be disappointed see baseball lose a great deal of fans where it has become so popular over the years.

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