Japanese high-school pitchintg phenom Shohei Otani was selected in the first round by the Nippon Ham Fighters in his country's professional league draft Thursday despite his intentions to sign to sign with an American major-league team.
Otani, 18, wants to bypass Japanese baseball and go directly to the United States. Nikkan Sports reported that he's interested in signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers or Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers are considered the front-runner, according to Japanese media reports.
His selection in the Japanese draft doesn't preclude signing with an American team, but it apparently will delay his availability until April. The Ham Fighters have until March 31 to sign the 6-foot-4 right-hander.
"I have heard that other teams are interested, but right now I think I want to select from the
three," Otani told Nikkan Sports.
Otani's fastball has been clocked at 99 mph in a game and up to 100 mph by major-league scouts.
The Ham Fighters went ahead with their plan to draft Otani knowing that they might not be able to land him.
"It's not about selecting players we know we can sign but rather selecting the number one player," Ham Fighters general manager Masao YamadaYamada said, according to YakyuBaka.com. "That is what the draft is about and our scouting is about."