Japanese right-hander Shohei Otani announced back in October that he was planning to break tradition and jump from his high school (Hanamaki East) right to the professional ranks in the United States, skipping a career in Nippon Professional Baseball altogether. But it’s not going to happen.
According to Japanese reporter Yasuko Yanagita, Otani has decided to remain in his native country for the foreseeable future. He was selected in the first round of the NPB Draft less than two months ago by the Nippon-Ham Fighters and accepted an offer Sunday to suit up for them in 2013.
Otani drew serious interest over the last few months from big spenders like the Dodgers, Rangers and Red Sox, but the pressure to take the more customary route for a Japanese pitcher apparently weighed on him.
Otani, 18, is a 6-foot-4 starting pitching prospect. His fastball has already been clocked in the triple digits.
The Mets signed catcher Jose Lobaton to a minor league contract, the team announced Friday. The deal includes an invitation to spring training, where it’s assumed Lobaton will be in the mix for a backup role behind Travis d'Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki.
Lobaton, 33, is coming off of a four-year stint with the Nationals. He put up his worst career numbers in 2017, producing -0.6 fWAR after slashing just .170/.248/.277 with four home runs in 158 plate appearances. While he’ll give the Mets little to work with at the plate, his near-decade of experience behind the dish should make him a decent emergency option, if nothing else.
In the meantime, the Mets are expected to roll with a d’Arnaud/Plawecki platoon to start the season. Both catchers saw slight upticks in value over the 2017 season: d’Arnaud turned in 0.8 fWAR after hitting a career-high 16 home runs, while Plawecki collected 0.6 fWAR and three homers after raising his batting line over the Mendoza Line for the first time since 2015.