Scouting Otani

Shohei Otani is the new shiny object on the international free agent radar, so of course the Yankees have been linked to him. Like most amateur free agents, I don’t really know anything about him (he’s 18 and he throws hard), but if you’re a Baseball America subscriber you can head over there and read Ben Badler’s scouting report on him. A sampling:

Otani has great arm speed and arm action with a loose, easy delivery. His fastball sits around 92-96 mph and has touched 98 (he hit 99 according to a video online, though BA could not find a scout who could confirm a reading above 98). Pitching every fifth day, Otani’s fastball may sit in the lower end of that range, but his power arm is a major draw for scouts. Some scouts liked the life on Otani’s fastball, though others thought it flattened out, which contributed to him getting hit against Canada.

Scouts were mixed on Otani’s offspeed pitches. His best secondary offering is his tight slider that he throws around 82-85 mph. He also mixes in a splitter and a big, slow curveball that so many Japanese pitchers seem to throw. The one area where scouts consistently said Otani needs work is on his command, as he’s prone to bouts of wildness and isn’t as advanced in that area compared to the U.S. high school pitchers who went in the first round in the draft this year.

Otani is an unusual case, bcause unlike most Japanese players he has announced his intention to skip playing in NPB and sign directly with a Major League franchise. That means he won’t be subject to the posting system, but it presents a different set of logistical challenges in its own right. For one thing, just because Otani has advised them not to doesn’t mean an NPB team won’t draft him, and if they do MLB teams won’t be able to negotiate with him until March. Additionally, as an amateur free agent, he’ll be subject to the spending limits imposed by the new CBA. The Yankees have already spent almost all of their allowance, and the clock on that doesn’t reset until July 2nd. To sign him before that, the Yankees would have to pay a penalty in terms of taxes and loss of ability to sign future prospects. I doubt they’ll do that, but considering that the amateur signing pool will begin to be scaled to a team’s record starting this season, it would certainly make sense to do that, as odds are that the Yankees won’t be able to sign any top international amateurs without exceeding the spending pool anytime soon.

Update: The Nippon Ham Fighters did indeed select Otani with the first overall pick in the NPB draft, so MLB teams won’t be able to negotiate with him until April.