The Texas Rangers know a thing or two about signing a superstar pitcher out of Japan. After scouting Shohei Otani this week, could he be their next international prize?
If and when Japanese sensation Shohei Otani intends to make the jump to Major League Baseball, there will likely be about 30 teams with at least some level of interest in the two-way star. While it remains unclear when that might happen, some clubs are already preparing for a potential pursuit. Count the Texas Rangers among them.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was in Japan scouting the 22-year-old Otani, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. Otani is currently on the disabled list with a thigh injury, but the representatives from Texas observed his workouts.
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This isn’t uncharted territory for the Rangers organization. As Sullivan notes, Daniels also visited Japan back in 2011 to watch Yu Darvish. Texas submitted the winning bid for the pitcher the following offseason with a record-breaking $51.7 million posting fee. They proceeded to sign Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal.
It’s Darvish’s possible exit as a free agent next winter that makes the Rangers’ interest in Otani all the more understandable. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he has been making headlines on both sides of the Pacific for his pitching and hitting prowess.
The 2016 season was Otani’s best showcase yet of his talent on the mound and with the bat. The right-hander twirled a 1.86 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 3.87 K/BB ratio in 140 innings. If that wasn’t enough, he mashed at the plate as a designated hitter on days he didn’t pitch. Otani slashed .322/.416/.588 with 22 home runs and 67 RBI in 104 games.
For his efforts, Otani earned the Pacific League MVP Award and became the first player in Nippon Professional Baseball history to be named to the “Best Nine” team as both a pitcher and DH. Oh, and his Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters were crowned NPB champions in the Japan Series.
Otani’s appeal isn’t just limited to his numbers and growing hardware collection. At 6’4″ and 215 pounds, he has the kind of frame MLB teams salivate over in a pitcher. He lights up the radar gun, setting an NPB record last September with a pitch clocked at 101.9 mph. It almost seems too good to be true.
There’s no guarantee of how Otani’s abilities will translate to the majors, but teams are eager to find out. There has even been talk of Otani being given the chance to both pitch and hit in MLB, though perhaps that’s easier said than done. Rangers manager Jeff Banister, however, seems excited by the possibility, per MLB.com:
“I never thought I would see that,” Banister said. “From what I’ve seen from the video, Ohtani throws 100, hits it a mile and runs well. I’m sure somebody said Bo Jackson couldn’t play both sports, or Deion Sanders. I never say no to athletes.”
Banister goes on to say that as an American League club, his Rangers could use the DH to give Otani at-bats, although managing that around his pitching schedule would certainly be a challenge. Right now it’s a bit difficult to imagine Otani becoming a true dual threat in the U.S., but stay tuned.
Also unclear is Otani’s time of arrival to Major League Baseball. The new CBA significantly limits the potential earnings of international free agents under age 25. Some have speculated that Otani would wait longer to maximize his MLB contract, but he still might take the leap anyway. Whenever he does, expect the Rangers to be a strong player for his services.