Shohei Otani to sign with major league team

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Shohei Otani, an 18-year-old right-hander, was expected to be one of the top picks in Thursday’s Nippon Professional Baseball Draft. But he has suddenly decided to take a different route.

According to the AP, via NBCSports.com, Otani “will pursue a career in Major League Baseball instead of turning professional in Japan.” He has already caught the attention of scouts from several major league teams, including the Red Sox and the Dodgers.

The 6-foot-4 starting pitching prospect will naturally draw comparisons this winter to the Rangers’ Yu Darvish, but he actually throws harder. Otani was clocked this summer between 99 and 100 mph, though his command reportedly needs work.

“I think I will start in the minor leagues but I want to challenge in the majors,” Otani told the Japanese media on Sunday. “It’s been my dream since entering high school.” He would be the first player to ever jump from a Japanese high school to the professional ranks in the United States.

J.D. Martinez tells teams he prefers an outfield role

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Free agent outfielder/slugger J.D. Martinez is reportedly seeking an outfield gig, says Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. According to Silverman’s sources, Martinez’s suitors have been informed that the veteran slugger would give preference to teams that can offer a corner outfield spot, rather than a DH-only role.

That could spell trouble for the Red Sox, who appear to be Martinez’s biggest suitors so far this offseason. Outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are firmly established at the corners, and prior reports from club president Dave Dombrowski suggest that center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is not going anywhere anytime soon (thereby eliminating the possibility of reshuffling the outfield). The DH spot is still wide open for Martinez, who doesn’t seem to be totally closed off to the idea, but any full-time or part-time role on the field is likely off the table at this point.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t the only ones pursuing Martinez’s services this winter. The 30-year-old slugger has been linked to both the Diamondbacks and Giants in weeks past, and while they have the roster flexibility to accommodate his preferences, they’ll need to clear another massive hurdle: the seven-year, $250 million contract he’s said to be seeking. Both clubs will need to get creative to make such a deal work. The Diamondbacks are rumored to be shopping right-hander Zack Greinke in an attempt to free up some room on their payroll for Martinez, while the Giants appear more inclined to scour the trade market for outfield help than shell out cash for another hefty contract in free agency.