How vain it is to sit down to write when you haven't stood up to live?
Have you heard of this kid, yet?
While the baseball world is busy drooling over Pablo ‘Kung Fu Panda’ Sandoval’s record-breaking World Series MVP performance, another player in the Major League Baseball limelight has a much firmer grasp on my attention. Shohei Otani is a name to be remembered. Whether his career reaches American superstardom or not, he will forever be known as the kid that changed the game for young Japanese players aspiring to go pro in Bigs.
This wouldn’t be the first time a prominent Japanese sensation found his name in the headlines for wanting to play in the world’s top professional baseball league. Ichiro Suzuki, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Yu Darvish were three of the most notable names to join MLB clubs after departing from their Japanese homeland. When Otani adds his name to the list of Japanese players in the MLB, he will have reached his goal in a much different way. The drastic difference is all about timing, as the 18-year-old Otani is choosing not to wait around, electing to bypass playing professional ball in Japan altogether. Otani isn’t alone either—see 18-year-old Takuya Tsuchida a player that just signed with Cleveland—as they are apart of a growing trend of young players darting to the MLB far before they hit their prime.
Although the influx of young international talent into MLB organizations can be seen as a great thing to expand the global interest of baseball worldwide, it is also a cause for concern for general managers and ownership in Japanese professional leagues overseas. Losing a few impact players in their mid-twenties like Darvish and Suzuki is nothing new, but losing budding teenage talent courted by MLB scouts on a basis of potential alone can open devastating floodgates when weighing a league’s appeal and sustainability.
Japanese baseball has recognized this issue as a serious red flag, and many are questioning if change is on the horizon set to hinder young players from becoming MLB eligible straight out of high school. Back in 2008, Junichi Tazawa became the first amateur player to bypass the Japanese draft. As a result, a bitter rule was instituted as if to force players to think twice about leaving, stating that a player is unable to sign with a Japanese club for up to three years if a short stint in the MLB didn’t happen to pan out. Following Otani’s announced departure, Japan’s 12 professional teams joined together to address how to move forward with their young talent pool now at an unprecedented level of vulnerability.
Like I said, remember the name. Otani may be the last Japanese teen you see in a MLB uniform. Good thing he can throw it 100mph, he’ll be a fan favorite in no time.