MLB-bound Shohei Otani picked in first round of Japan’s draft

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Despite the declaration that he wants to pitch in MLB, right-hander Shohei Otani was picked in the first round in Japan’s amateur draft by the Nippon Ham Fighters on Thursday.

The selection means that Otani will be unable to sign with an MLB team before the end of March, per an agreement between the two leagues. That gives the Fighters a few months to try to change his mind about making the jump across the Pacific. If Otani had gone undrafted, he could have signed with an MLB team immediately. The Rangers, Dodgers and Red Sox have been labeled his biggest suitors.

“My feelings haven’t changed,” Otani said after being selected. “I’m grateful that they appreciate me, but it doesn’t change my desire to play in America.”

Fellow right-hander Shintaro Fujinami also went in the first round, getting selected by the Hanshin Tigers. Like Otani, Fujinami has been the subject of interest from MLB teams. However, it’s believed he intends to remain in Japan.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.