Japanese teen pitcher catches eye of MLB

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 21, 2009

SEATTLE – Last week, we detailed the story of Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, a highly coveted left-handed free agent who has caught the interest of numerous major league teams, including the Mariners.

Now let’s turn to yet another left-handed pitching prospect – this time, from Japan – who is causing quite a stir among major league teams. And yes, that again includes the Mariners.

At 18, Yusei Kikuchi is three years younger than Chapman, and his chances of signing with a major-league team more problematic. Yet Kikuchi is enough of a talent – he has clocked out at 96 mph at various tournaments, with the kind of lively arm action that thrills scouts – that at least eight MLB teams are in pursuit.

“This kid’s an extraordinary talent,” said Ray Poitevint, an international scout who spent nearly 50 years working for the Brewers, Red Sox, Angels, Orioles and White Sox, and still is involved in evaluating Japanese baseball.

“I’m not talking about size, but stuff-wise, it’s like (the Dodgers’ Clayton) Kershaw. This guy is very advanced; he’s American-style in his makeup. He’s kind of a cocky, aggressive type of guy, mature past his age.

“They have some pretty good baseball players at the high-school level. He just seems like he’s playing against babies.”

The rub is that Kikuchi has not yet made up his mind if he wants to be the first premier Japanese amateur to shun their draft and sign directly with an MLB team. The Japanese draft will be held Oct. 29, and Kikuchi will likely be the first player chosen.

On Friday, Kikuchi and his adviser began meeting with representatives from all 12 Japanese teams, who made 30-minute presentations of why he should sign with them if drafted.

After that he plans to meet with at least eight major league teams, including the Mariners.


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