8:25pm: Stewart will sign a six-year contract worth more than $7MM, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports (via Twitter). He’ll start off in the minor leagues over in Japan.
One can only wonder if Stewart’s decision will ultimately inspire other domestic amateurs to pursue similar opportunities overseas. By securing a $7MM+ guarantee, he’ll almost certainly eclipse what he’d have made in terms of his bonus in next month’s draft. While he’s now locked in his salaries for more than a half decade and put a fairly hard cap on what he can earn, Stewart would’ve likely been years away from even being a consideration for an MLB roster — at which point he’d have been another three years away (at least) from reaching arbitration eligibility. It could very well have taken him as long, if not longer, to reach the point where he could’ve locked in a guaranteed $7MM by playing in Major League Baseball — if he ever reached that level of earnings at all.
1:55pm: Stewart will receive more than $4MM under the deal, MLB.com’s Jim Callis reports (Twitter link).
8:37am: Amateur pitching prospect Carter Stewart will continue to take an unusual career path, foregoing the upcoming amateur draft in favor of a stint with Japan’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the agreement (Twitter links).
Though precise terms aren’t yet known, Rosenthal indicates that Stewart will be subject to Nippon Professional Baseball’s typical ten-year player-control system. Whether there are any further understandings or agreements regarding his future aren’t known. Stewart was “believed to be seeking” a $7MM guarantee, per Rosenthal. It’s not yet known whether he’ll receive that level of promise from Fukuoka, and in what form (bonus vs. salary) it’ll be paid.
Stewart is widely considered one of the most talented amateur pitchers in the world. Indeed, the Braves selected him out of high school with the eighth overall pick in the 2018 draft. The sides failed to agree to a contract after the club got a closer look at the medicals. A ligament issue in Stewart’s wrist led the club to lower its offer.
Rather than take the reduced bonus, Stewart enrolled at Eastern Florida State College. By going to a junior college, he preserved the ability to reenter the draft this year. Meanwhile, Stewart and his representatives initiated a grievance regarding the negotiations with the Braves. It was ultimately resolved in the team’s favor. The Braves hold a compensatory pick in this year’s draft.
In the intervening year since the ’18 draft, pundits have soured a bit on Stewart. He delivered excellent results and is still said to have shown top-shelf stuff at times, but also dealt with some inconsistency and saw a few other questions crop up. As of today, Stewart was rated 38th overall by Baseball America and landed just inside the top sixty players on the Fangraphs and MLB.com draft prospect lists.
Heading to Japan hardly means that Stewart won’t have a chance at the majors. But it does make for quite a different — and frankly fascinating — career course. It seems reasonable to presume that Stewart will be counted against the Hawks’ limit of four foreign players — if and when he’s added to the active roster. He’d be eligible to be posted back to MLB teams (with a transfer fee capped at $20MM) at any time, at the election of his new team.
There’s some risk in heading abroad, but it’s hard to ignore the appeal. Stewart will have a heck of a cultural experience. He will presumably enjoy much greater earnings out of the gates, though bonus and salary details aren’t yet known. Neither is it clear whether Stewart is expected to jump right into the team’s NPB rotation out of the gates, but it stands to reason that he’ll be competing in consequential games in front of thousands of passionate fans much sooner in Japan than he would have in North America.
The international transactional landscape continues to evolve in fascinating ways. Shohei Ohtani pushed for an early move to the majors after previously dabbling with a decision to come straight over as an amateur player. Last fall, the Diamondbacks nabbed a promising Japanese amateur player in unusual fashion. We have continued to see North American players head to Japan and other Asian nations in efforts to earn better money and revive their careers, though roster limitations effectively cap the number that can do so. Now, there’s a potential new talent pipeline heading west across the Pacific.