Nippon-Ham Fighters’ pitcher-outfielder Shohei Otani is ready to make the jump to Major League Baseball, the two-way star announced during a press conference Saturday. “The other day I met with team officials and stated my intentions,” he said. “My request was met with warm words of support so I hope to do my best in America from next year on.”
The 23-year-old signed on with CAA Sports earlier this week and will be represented by lead agent Nez Balelo as he entertains offers from interested MLB teams. That’s assuming that Major League Baseball can hammer out the terms of a new posting system with the Players Association and Nippon Professional Baseball this offseason; specifically, that NPB can get the Players Association to agree to a one-time extension of the old posting system, which would grant the Nippon-Ham Fighters a $20 million posting fee for their star player. MLB is reportedly already on board with such a plan.
Assuming everything works out this winter, there’s another question dogging Otani: Will he continue to develop as a hybrid pitcher-outfielder in MLB, or will he hone in on a singular career track with his new team?
Just before I turned professional, I didn’t imagine I would be able to do both,” Otani said. “But since then, the fans have encouraged it, the coaches helped me, and manager (Hideki) Kuriyama made it possible. That has left me with a strong desire, to keep doing it, not only for me, but for them. I don’t know if it will be possible, but I want to hear what teams over there say and what kind of situations might be available. Until that process has started, I can’t say how it might work out.
No matter where he ends up playing on the field, Otani stressed his desire to improve, telling reporters he doesn’t consider himself “a complete player yet” and that his desire to get better has driven his impending move to MLB.
Despite playing through a nagging ankle injury, which culminated in surgery last month, he found marginal success in his fifth year of pro ball. He batted .332/.403/.540 with eight home runs and a .942 OPS through 231 plate appearances and maintained a 3-2 record in five starts, posting a 3.20 ERA, 6.8 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 over 25 1/3 innings.