Eight American teams, including some of the biggest names in Major League Baseball, are competing to sign a Japanese high school student with a fastball that has been clocked at a shade under 100 miles an hour. Starting today, Yusei Kikuchi, who is 18, will hold interviews with the eight clubs as the race to sign the explosive left-handed pitcher heats up. Among the clubs Kikuchi is poised to meet are the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees, the Seattle Mariners and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kikuchi's high school said their coveted pitcher would also speak to officials of all 12 Japanese domestic ballclubs over the next four days. They said Kikuchi would hold all the talks at his Hanamaki Higashi high school in Iwate, northern Japan. "We want to be fair to all the clubs," said the school's baseball coach, Hiroshi Sasaki. "It's important to choose the place that's right for him." Kikuchi, whose fastball has been clocked at 96.8mph (155kph), is expected to spend just 30 minutes with officials from each club.
Japanese baseball officials have requested Kikuchi not consider any offer from MLB clubs before Japan's amateur draft on October 29. MLB clubs are not bound by the rule that prevents Japanese teams tabling offers before the draft, meaning Kikuchi could in theory opt to jump straight to the US major leagues. Last year, the hard-throwing Junichi Tazawa snubbed the Japanese draft to join the Boston Red Sox - the first such move by a top Japanese amateur player. The Red Sox also have the marquee pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who arrived at Fenway Park from Japan in 2007 on a US$103 million (Dh378m) deal.