Otani cutting his teeth in Japan but MLB beckons

Wed Nov 19, 2014 12:11am EST
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By Junko Fujita

SAPPORO Japan (Reuters) - Shohei Otani has made waves in Japan by throwing strikes and smashing home runs for the Nippon Ham Fighters, but the 'Double Sworded Samurai' may have to give up one of his weapons if he is to realize his dream of making it big in Major League Baseball.

In his second season with the Fighters, the lanky right hander won a team-best 11 games with two shutouts, throwing 160 kph (100mph) fastballs and recording a 2.61 earned run average.

The 20-year-old's prowess with the bat has also been a boon for the Fighters.

Japanese professional baseball's only "nitoryu," which refers to someone who wields two swords, recorded a .274 batting average with 10 home runs.

However, if he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Yu Darvish (Texas Rangers) and Masahiro Tanaka (New York Yankees) by making it big in the United States, he may have to stick to the mound instead of home plate.

“Otani is the most wanted Japanese player by Major League Baseball teams,” Yoshi Hasegawa, director for Japan baseball at the Chicago-based global sports agency Octagon, told Reuters in Tokyo.

“(But) He is not playing to 100 percent of his ability as a pitcher because he also bats.

"His pitching potential is enormous."   Continued...

Japan's pitcher Shohei Otani, who both pitches and hits for the Nippon Ham Fighters, attends a practice session before an exhibition baseball game against  U.S. Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Stars in Tokyo November 14, 2014.   REUTERS/Toru Hanai