Japan’s Shohei Otani casts a big shadow over US baseball

on March 2017 | in Sports | by Dario Passarelli | @PapaDart | with No Comments

Baseball, that great American pastime always seems to walk around with a high sense of who it is, just like their new president. Afterall, who else but Major League Baseball would call their league title the “World Series” when the only teams (not countries) participating in it are made up of 29 American cities and 1 Canadian. In fairness, what the rest of the world may call arrogance, they themselves call self confidence. Therefore it comes as no surprise that it was MLB and the Players Union who proposed the idea of the World Baseball Classic to the International Baseball Federation many years ago. A proposal I am sure to prove how mighty they are while also generating a ton of cash. With their record however against the rest of the world, Americans may want to reconsider their pastime and probably change that title to the North American Series.

There have been 3 Classics prior to this year’s and as I am sure all of you know where I am going with this, the United States haven’t won any of them. In fact, they have never even been to a championship game. For that matter, they haven’t earned a bronze medal either. Their best result was a 4th place finish back in 2009. As the 2017 Classic is going on, they haven’t been the best team so far but they haven’t been eliminated either. This may finally prove to be the year where they actually get a medal.

Although MLB is far, far away from being considered a world league, there has been an increase in foreign players including those playing for other countries. As per the 2016 season stats, there are 149 from Dominican Republic, 118 from Venezuela, 34 from Cuba and 13 from Canada. Other countries that are also in the big show include Puerto Rico, Mexico, Japan, South Korea and many more. Regardless though, the US still dominates with over 800 players including 221 from the state of California alone. The hypocrisy of calling it a World Series though isn’t lost on these players as it is still the league they most wish to play in. That includes the phenomenal Japanese prospect Shohei Otani.

When the 22 year old right hander graduated high school in 2012 he said he was coming across the Pacific to play in North America. The only thing that changed his mind was being able to dictate how he wants to play. You see, not only is he a good pitcher, and by good I mean good enough to be named the starting pitcher for an All-Star game. But the 6 ft 4 in kid is also good with a bat, and by good I mean good enough to also win the All-Star game home run derby. That’s right, Otani can pitch like a Cy Young and he can bat like an MVP.

So in his initial discussions with most clubs, since there has been nobody in the league like this since Babe Ruth, they have been encouraging Otani to stick with pitching. That is how the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Japanese League were able to convince him to sign with them back in 2012. They are the only ones who said he can do both. So apart from pitching and batting, he also has an arm and plays outfield. Therefore, in the past 2 and a half years, he has done everything in baseball and have done it well. The 3x NPB All-Star has a 39-13 record with a 2.48 era and 595 strikeouts. He also has 229 hits, 135 rbis and 40 home runs. Not only is there nothing this kid can’t do, but he is only 22 which means he is still hasn’t reached his full potential.

His journey to the US and the “world series” won’t happen this year it seems. Right now the projection is that he will be signing in early 2018 as that could land his team a much bigger fee. Don’t feel sad though, because Shohei Otani will be doing just fine on his own as people are projecting a $300M total offer coming his way. The question becomes is he better suited for the National League where he gets to hit every fifth day or will a team like the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees (the usual culprits) cave in and agree to let the kid be a designated hitter/outfielder between starts. Regardless of which team he signs with, players and fans from around the real world will be there watching.

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