The hype surrounding Japanese pitcher and designated hitter Shohei Otani has continued to grow over the past year in anticipation of his making the jump to Major League Baseball. Scouts have pegged Otani as the best two-way talent in some time.
He’s eligible to come play professionally in the United States in 2018, although it is unknown if Otani will elect to do that as he has endured an injury-plagued 2017 season. The Los Angeles Dodgers are among the reported teams with interest in Otani.
Ahead of the possibility that he is posted by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters this offseason, clubs have long been laying the foundation for a potential pursuit.
According to Andy McCullough of the L.A. Times, the Dodgers recently sent a scouting contingent to Japan that included president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and former pitcher Orel Hershiser:
The Dodgers sent scouting contingent to Japan to see Shohei Otani, Sports Nippon reported. Group included Andrew Friedman, Orel Hershiser.
— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) August 18, 2017
Otani recently threw two low-intensity bullpen sessions. He has pitched just one game this season, due to being limited by ankle and thigh injuries that also kept him out of the World Baseball Classic.
While Otani is viewed as an elite pitcher, he’s also fared well at the plate. He produced a 1.004 on-base plus slugging percentage last season, which has dipped but is still an impressive .968 in 41 games with the Fighters this year.
At just 23 years old, Otani does not yet qualify as a foreign professional under the overhauled Collective Bargaining Agreement. Therefore, he will be subject to international amateur spending limits if he decides to come to the MLB at present time.
The Dodgers are among the teams that have acquired additional international signing bonus money in trades this season, although they are currently limited to signing international amateur free agents to just $300,000 until July 2, 2018, due to going over assigned bonus pools in previous seasons.