Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks pitching prospect Carter Stewart will face NPB hitters for the first time on Friday, according to a blog post from reporter Jim Allen. Stewart is scheduled to pitch as the Hawks will face the Chiba Lotte Marines in a practice game. (COVID-19 concerns have delayed the opening day in Japan’s MLB equivalent from March 20 until April 10, at the earliest. But the fact that they are even playing “practice” games is more than can be said about North American baseball.)
Stewart’s story is one that has already been full of surprises. After he wowed the scouts as a high-schooler, he was selected by the Braves eighth overall in the 2018 draft. However, they were unable to come to an agreement on a contract after the team became concerned about his medicals and offered him a deal so far below his slot value that it caused the MLBPA to file a grievance on his behalf. After the Braves won that grievance, Stewart ultimately decided to take the unprecedented step of signing with the Hawks in May of 2019, just days before that year’s draft.
In his post, Allen writes that Stewart only pitched to lower level opponents in 2019, similar to how drafted prospects go on to face minor league competition before working their way up to the majors. So, this will be a noticeable jump in competition for the young hurler. “Obviously, they can hit a little bit better,” Stewart says, “so maybe they’re going to put me in a little bit tougher situations, but obviously, you’ve still got to perform.”
How Stewart’s trajectory plays out from here will be fascinating to watch. His six-year contract comes with a base of $6.2MM but with incentives that can push it into the $11MM-$12MM range. That means there are a wide range of outcomes in terms of his earnings, and the consequences of those earnings could be vast. If the industry perspective is that Stewart made a wise financial decision and earned more than he would have by staying in North America, it might cause other youngsters to follow in his footsteps, or make MLB reconsider how younger players are compensated. That’s a topic which has often come up in relation to the tense relationship between the players and the league. With no games currently scheduled in North America, baseball-hungry fans can at least look overseas for an intriguing story with potentially far-reaching implications.