When the Nippon Ham Fighters selected 18-year-old right-handed pitcher Shohei Ontani with the first overall pick in the Nippon Professional Baseball League draft on Thursday, it had implications beyond a team merely selecting a highly rated amateur pitcher.
Before being drafted, Otani declared interest in playing Major League Baseball instead of plying his trade in Japan.
However, after being selected in the draft, he will unavailable to Major League teams until the Spring of 2013 at the earliest due to an agreement between MLB and NPBL.
Update: According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, Otani is still free to sign with an MLB team at any time. The Fighters only have exclusive negotiating rights with Otani among teams in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.
The Fighters will attempt to sign Otani despite his previously stated preference. If they’re able to persuade him, Otani would have to be posted by his Japanese team, and undergo the same process as Yu Darvish last winter, if he hopes to play in North America. However, Otani would still fall under the $2.9 million international bonus pools for the 2012-13 signing period. Foreign professionals need to be at least 23 and have at least five years in a recognized professional league to avoid under the current spending limits.
Also of note is the Hanshin Tigers selecting Shintaro Fujinami, who has been talked about in the same breath as Otani. Fujinami has also garnered some degree of interest from Major League clubs, but he wasn’t as a adamant as Otani about playing at baseball’s highest level.
Okay, so bring on the racist comps to Darvish, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Nomo.