Japanese ace Shohei Otani has already given Major League Baseball teams plenty of reasons to drool over him, but he added another Tuesday: Otani, a 22-year-old pitcher for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, threw the fastest pitch ever recorded in the history of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball organization.
Otani hit 164 kph, which translates to 101.9 mph, breaking his own mark of 163 kph, set earlier this season. Interestingly enough, the fastest pitch ever in Japanese pro baseball was knocked into the outfield for a two-run single.
Don’t let that ruin the Otani hype train, though. Get ready to hear his name a lot, since he figures to one of the next big Japanese stars that MLB teams will be courting. He struck out nine in five innings Tuesday, giving him 142 K’s this season in 118 innings. In one start this season, he threw 31 pitches that were 99 mph or faster.
All this is enough to earn Otani the title of the most intriguing pitching prospect in the world, according to some. But there’s one more particularly fascinating wrinkle in Otani’s story, and it might even be better than the 102 mph fastball.
Otani is also one of the best hitters in Japanese baseball. He’s the winner of this year’s NPB Home Run Derby, he ranks seventh in the league in homers and he’s his team’s go-to DH. He also leads the NPB in OPS at 1.036, which is higher than even the MLB leader, David Ortiz at 1.034. Everybody knew Otani was a good pitcher, but he’s having a breakout season at the plate too, improving his slash from .202/.252/.376 in 2015 to .326/.425/.611 this season.
So, yeah, there will be plenty of interest whenever he decides to come to MLB. We don’t know exactly when that will be, but even before this season, MLB scouts were paying close attention. The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote in February:
“He can do both,” said an AL scout. “He’s going to have to make a choice. Either way he’s going to be an All-Star-caliber player as a hitter or pitcher.” The tendency will be to keep him as a pitcher because he lights up radar guns. But he likes to hit.
Maybe we’ll get that pitchers’ Home Run Derby in MLB one of these days, after all. For now, you’d be wise to learn the name Shohei Otani.
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