Friday, October 5, 2012

高校野球 and MLB

I'll have fall tournament updates shortly, but in talking with some Japanese baseball fans at an M's game recently, the topic of HS players coming to the states came up.

For the 2nd time, a Hanamaki Higashi pitcher is considering coming to the states.  First was Kikuchi Yuusei, now it's Ootani Shouhei.

Kikuchi passed up the MLB and was the #1 pick in the NPB draft.  Ootani may not be the overwhelming #1, but he should go in the initial lottery.

I figure he'll pass up going to the states too, but the dynamics may be changing.

See, when the posting process was at its peak, veteran players fetched a fortune for both themselves and their team (remember Daisuke?).  So elite players right out of HS and college were better off going under the control of NPB teams where they would get max contracts.  Then later on, they could be posted, make the team some money and then also get a big contract in the majors.

Better that than trying to toil in the MLB minors making a pittance of a salary with the hopes of making it up to the major league ballclub.

But now the exuberance of NPB players has been muted.  Players such as Tsuyoshi Wada, Wei-Yin Chen, Hisashi Iwakuma and Norachika Aoki came over for very little compared to their prior counterparts.  Only Darvish was the one to make out like a bandit - though rightly so.

So the big payday that had been present isn't there anymore.  So I suppose if one wanted to come to the states to challenge themselves, and wasn't worried about the money - this dynamic change doesn't matter.

But, here's something to consider.  Currently, I suppose the culture plus the low salary and the rough minor leagues make it hard for HS/Daigaku players to come over after graduation.  But while NPB has a high starting salary for elite players with a lower ceiling, MLB starts off cheap but if you can prove yourself, the sky's the limit (just ask the Yankees or the Dodgers it seems) as to how much you can be paid.

So, does the prospect of a lower salary when being posted/international FA mean that players may consider coming to the US with a little more seriousness?

Maybe, but the cultural transition plus the deeper minors may still scare most people from trying.  That and the 2 year ban from returning to NPB.  For a young player, that's two years of income earning that they would miss (sure, there's the industrial and independent leagues, but they won't make money there).

Eventually, there will be a player that will not care and try and strike their claim in the US.  Personally, I thought Yuusei would be that person - his on-the-field personality seemed to suggest that.  We'll have to wait and see if Ootani winds up being that person.  But the Dodgers and Rangers seem to be pursuing him hard.

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