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TOKYO (AFP) October 26, 2012, 2:09:11 PM EDT

 

This picture taken in March 2012 shows Shohei Otani pitching at a high school baseball championship. The precocious schoolboy pitcher with a 100-mile-an-hour fastball has set feathers flying in Japan's staid baseball establishment by vowing he will leapfrog straight to the US leagues.

/Jiji Press/AFP/File

This picture taken in March 2012 shows Shohei Otani pitching at a high school baseball championship. The precocious schoolboy pitcher with a 100-mile-an-hour fastball has set feathers flying in Japan's staid baseball establishment by vowing he will leapfrog straight to the US leagues.

 A precocious schoolboy pitcher with a 100-mile-an-hour fastball has set feathers flying in Japan's staid baseballestablishment by vowing he will leapfrog straight to the US leagues.

"I am grateful and honoured that they named me and valued me that way," the 193 centimetre (6ft 4ins) right-hander told some 70 reporters who gathered at his Hanamaki Higashi high school in rural northern Japan.

"It is zero as far as I am concerned," he said about the possibility of changing his mind.

As well as his impressive fireballs, the youngster has also hit 56 home-runs in his high school career.

Four days ahead of the draft -- an arrangement among teams for the exclusive rights to negotiate with unsigned players -- Otani announced he would not be staying in Japan.

"Formidable players are gathering there (in MLB) from different countries. I don't want to be outdone by those players," he said.

The youngster's truculence stands out in a system accustomed to getting its own way.

"This could lead to the hollowing out of Japanese professional baseball," warned Tsunekazu Momoi, the owner of the Yomiuri Giants, one of the most prestigious clubs in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).

"This is the latest crack in the NPB Maginot Line," he said, referring to the the French fortification that was overrun by invading Germans in 1940, despite general belief in its impregnability.

"People are getting used to defections to the United States," he said, adding that NPB "doesn't seem capable of staunching the bleeding".

"What they need is a basic restructuring of their business model."

But the Nippon Ham Fighters, this year's champions of the NPB Pacific League, who chose him in the draft, say they are determined to have their man.

"We feel he (Otani) is the only one we want," Nippon Ham Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama told reporters on Thursday.

"It will definitely be a positive for him to join us," he added, vowing to visit Otani's home in Hanamaki "as many times as possible."

MLB has a gentlemen's agreement -- but no written pledge -- with NPB to stay away during this negotiating period.

Kuriyama, who has described Otani as having the potential to "be another Darvish", said the youngster needed time to develop his talents.

However, if his venture Stateside falls flat, under NPB rules Otani will have to wait up to three years before he is permitted to play for a Japanese pro club -- that is if he hasn't burned all his bridges.

But, says Whiting, a move to the US appears to be the perfect fit for the youngster.

"I think Otani could spend as little as three years in the minors," said Whiting. "He has got all the tools to succeed in the major leagues. He also seems extremely determined."

"He will be going to a place where the manager and coaches will treat him as an adult and not a boot camp inductee as is the case with NPB."


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