As I am sure you have heard, 18 year old Japanese pitcher Shohei Otani has decided to forgo the draft in Japan (the NPB) and is open to being signed by an MLB team. This has obvious implications for the relationship between the NPB and the MLB. Otani is not subject to the MLB draft (or the posting system that Yu Darvish, Dice-K, and others were subject to) because he is not from the United States (or Puerto Rico), but signing him will cost towards the new bonus pools on foreign free agents. Otani has caused waves thanks mainly to a video on YouTube (Sound familiar?) The Rangers and the Dodgers seem to be the favorites, but the Yankees and others are also reportedly interested and he met with the Red Sox before deciding to become a free agent open to the MLB. Jim Callis of Baseball America believes that Otani is talented enough that teams are probably willing to go over the bonus limits and take financial penalties to sign him. It looks like he would have been an easy 1st overall pick in the NPB (evidently the Nippon Ham Fighters plan on taking him anyway), if he had decided to go that route.
Otani has a tall and skinny build (listed at 6-4 190). He should obviously fill out more as he advances in age. There is a pretty dramatic pause in his delivery. In the video, he seems to be flying open a little bit, and was missing glove side. While the mechanics are not concerning from an injury stand point, they are really fluid and smooth, there are a lot of moving parts to his delivery. First, he faces the hitter and then brings his hands over his head. All of this is done rather slowly, and he then shifts his body into a standard pitching motion and starts to bring his hands down. While he does this, he starts with a relatively high leg kick until his arm (as his glove and leg are going out as he starts to stride) is actually below his knee for a split second. He then brings the ball in a 3/4th motion as he finishes with his body, getting what seems like good extension.
If that description isn’t helpful and you don’t want to watch the video yourself, then here are some nifty screenshots I took:
So I wrote down the velocity of every fastball he threw in the video and while Otani famously got up to 99.2 MPH, he averaged 94.81 MPH on his fastball. The softest fastball he threw was (I didn’t know how to classify the high 87.42 MPH pitch at 3:25 in the video. Maybe it was a moving fastball, but I didn’t include it in the averages) 91.14 MPH, with the most common being 94.24 and 95.48 MPH. He clearly was overthrowing at times, as his best velocities often came with the worst command (but perhaps the best movement). Otani can locate it low or high (mainly high, where it is maybe a little straight). Otani also showed a 91.14 MPH sinker along with some tail on the slower fastballs. Some of the hardest fastballs he threw also had sinking action.
He also has a pretty hard but inconsistent slider at 81.84-86.18 MPH. It seems to be a pitch he will both be able to throw for strikes away from right-handed hitters and a pitch he can bury away for possible swings and misses. Otani’s changeup or splitter sits at 78.74-84.94 MPH, but he doesn’t have control over it. It has some really nasty late movement though. Even when it stays up, it might be his best pitch. It seems that he almost has two different changeup velocities. The pitches move the same, but have a few MPH difference. This may be just inconsistency (he threw one pitch at 77 MPH, that moved a little differently than the change and was obviously slower. I didn’t know how to classify it). He also has a slow curve that he can throw for strikes at 65.72-70.68 MPH. He did have problem getting it down though, which is usually an issue with slow curves (he threw something at 63.24 MPH that didn’t move anything like a curve).
You don’t really see a lot of lefties face Otani in the video, but he seems to work away from them as well. It doesn’t seem he likes to come inside (even though he has the velocity that leads you to believe he could have success there). This is something that will probably be ironed out in the minors, as you want him to be aggressive with his stuff. He doesn’t appear to be afraid to throw any pitch in any count, looking pretty well rounded for a pitcher his age (other than he went away from his change for a while).
It seems that Patrick Newman’s look at Otani (live in the spring) was less impressive, as Otani was 90-95 MPH and extremely wild (according to scouts, Otani averages between 93.2 to 96.3 MPH in most of his outings). As the video shows, his velocity was down in the outing, but it was also late in the outing and he had already thrown an extremely stupid amount of pitches. He gets good spin on the ball, and I am not very concerned about a 18 year old pitcher who has a tendency to be wild. He does a good job of repeating the complicated delivery, especially for his age. I am much more concerned about the health of an arm that was pushed beyond where it was supposed to be pushed (a problem all too common in amateur baseball). He is a good athlete, as the last parts of both videos show him batting and even playing the outfield, so perhaps the athleticism and repeatable delivery offsets some of those concerns.
So while I usually don’t use or like “comps” on prospects, I think it is interesting to see which pitchers have similar velocity and pitches as the prospect (just as I did in the Ryu Hyung-Jin article). Only 2 qualified starters had a better average fastball than the fastball Otani had in the first video. While this may seem like a really lazy comp, it actually seems that Yu Darvish may be the best MLB comp. Darvish is really the only pitcher with plus fastball velocity and a slow curve (Arroyo and Weaver have similar curves, but their fastballs are not nearly as good velocity wise). Darvish has all the other pitches Otani has as well (mainly the slider and split/change). Otani seems to have better velocity, but doesn’t seem to have a cutter like Darvish. Jarrod Parker is also a somewhat interesting comp, with a good changeup and fastball along with a slider. These comps are inadequate of course, as Otani is his own pitcher, and is not very similar to really any pitcher in the Majors. It is also hard to tell if he will come up with the pitchability as Darvish and Parker as well. However, it does appear that Otani will instantly be one of the best prospects in any system in baseball.