22-year-old righty Shohei Otani, a standout in Japan’s NPB, has been drawing plenty of attention lately as his Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters train in Arizona. It’s not hard to see why, as the power righty is coming off of a season in which he put up a 2.24 ERA over 160 2/3 innings, with 11.0 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9. Otani, who is also a productive hitter, says he’s always dreamed of playing in the majors, as MLB.com’s Barry Bloom writes. But it’s not yet clear when that chance will arise. As Eric Longenhagen explains for ESPN.com, his current team has little incentive to post him now, given that it is capped at $20MM regardless of when it does so. But he does add that some believe the Fighters would allow him to depart if a request was made. If and when that occurs, you can expect a bidding frenzy unlike many others. As Ben Badler of Baseball America puts it on Twitter, he rates Otani higher than any pitching prospects currently in MLB organizations.
Here’s more from the broader baseball world:
- The Padres are expected to make some noise on the international market, as Badler writes and Longenhagen also covers in the above-linked piece. San Diego appears to be the favorite to land two high-end Cuban talents: 19-year-old outfielder Jorge Ona and young southpaw Adrian Morejon. (The Cubs had been seen as having an edge on the latter, per Badler, but now seem to have made way for the Pads.) Per the report, the club is also primed to add a few significant July 2 prospects from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
- GM A.J. Preller has long been known for his international attention and acumen, and it seems that he’s now putting that background to work as his organization looks to rebuild a lightly-regarded farm system. Indeed, the team appears to be giving quite a bit of attention to yet another young Cuban player, Lazaro “Lazarito” Armenteros, as Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune details. Like the Braves, San Diego would need to convince him to wait until the next July 2 period to avoid incurring penalties (for exceeding this year’s international spending caps) that would foul up other significant moves.
- We’ve heard previously that the Friars are among the clubs expected to bust their budgets in the coming July 2 signing season, and the Cardinals appear set to join them, Badler reports (building upon a recent report that St. Louis was looking to be aggressive). He notes that there’s some interplay with the possibility that the organization could be penalized relating to the Astros computer breach scandal, which might cost draft picks (or, conceivably, international money). Two names to watch for St. Louis, per Badler, are top Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia and 17-year-old Cuban center fielder Jonatan Machado.
- The recent MLB international prospect showcase had players from eight countries in attendance, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez writes, and there’s hope for further expansion in the future. Athletics GM David Forst says that the process of evaluating young international players has changed dramatically in recent years, with events like this featuring actual game action (rather than just workouts) providing a chance “to see these kids play in games against their peers and similar competition.”