Japan boy wonder to follow Darvish's path

Posted at 12/27/12 6:01 PM

TOKYO - A Japanese high-school pitching sensation who gave up his plan to go straight to the US leagues took the perfect first step Thursday in his domestic career, by inheriting Yu Darvish's room.

Shohei Otani, 18, who signed with Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters this month, was given the room used by Texas Rangers pitcher Darvish until his major league move last January, at the club's training and lodging facility near Tokyo.

The club had previously announced he would also take the No. 11 shirt --Darvish's old number.

"I am greatly honoured. I want to hang in there. I wonder if I deserve it," said Otani, whose 160 kilometre (100-mile)-per-hour pitch and impressive slugging record made him a standout in the well-followed high school leagues.

"I'm happy to start in such a place," said the 193-centimetre (6ft 4in) right-hander, who will graduate in March from Hanamaki Higashi high school in rural northern Japan.

Darvish, 26, the two-time Japan League Most Valuable Player, also cultivated his talents with the Fighters from 2005 and became the highest-paid player in Japanese baseball.

Otani stunned Japan's baseball establishment in October when he said he would turn professional in the United States, a move that would have required him to spend several years in the US minor leagues.

But the Fighters, the Japanese Pacific League champions, succeeded in persuading him to start his career in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) after naming him their first-round draft pick.

Otani signed for a 2013 salary of $176,400 with a $1.2 million signing bonus and $5,900 in performance-based incentives -- the maximum figures allowed by NPB for a first-year pro.


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