Officials from Major League Baseball clubs packed the scout section at Sapporo Dome on Thursday, eager to see if Japanese pitching sensation Shohei Ohtani had returned to health after a season plagued by ankle and thigh injuries.Ohtani's fastball alone eliminated any lingering concerns. It reached 99 and 100 mph, as
Officials from Major League Baseball clubs packed the scout section at Sapporo Dome on Thursday, eager to see if Japanese pitching sensation Shohei Ohtani had returned to health after a season plagued by ankle and thigh injuries.
Ohtani's fastball alone eliminated any lingering concerns. It reached 99 and 100 mph, as first reported by The Athletic and confirmed by multiple sources to MLB.com.
Ohtani's pitching line wasn't extraordinary: He allowed four earned runs over 3 1/3 innings. However, one scout in attendance told MLB.com there's a growing sentiment in Japan that -- after years of speculation -- Ohtani will be made available to MLB teams during the upcoming offseason.
Since Ohtani, 23, has not yet accrued enough service time to become an international free agent, that decision belongs to his club, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.
In determining Ohtani's future, the Fighters have said they will consider factors that transcend their own financial and competitive self-interest. Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama told MLB.com in a preseason interview that if Ohtani approaches the club after the season with a request to be posted to MLB teams, Kuriyama will reply, "Go chase your dreams."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and assistant general manager Jean Afterman attended Thursday's game, according to the New York Daily News. The Yanks recently acquired international signing bonus allocations to amplify their spending power in the coming months; they and the Rangers are among the favorites to acquire Ohtani, whenever he's made available to MLB clubs, sources say.
Padres general manager A.J. Preller also was seen in Japan on a scouting trip this week, one source told MLB.com.
Ohtani has said he would like to be both a pitcher and a hitter in Major League Baseball, as he's done for the Fighters. Kuriyama supports that concept and told MLB.com through an interpreter in February: "I would not tell him to pick one. Ohtani looks at baseball in a different way. He wants to try different things and do things people haven't done in the past."
Because Ohtani is not yet 25 years old, he would be subject to international amateur spending restrictions. An MLB team would pay the Fighters a release fee through the posting process -- likely the maximum of $20 million -- and then a signing bonus to Ohtani. The bonus must fit under a hard cap, usually less than $6 million per team, although MLB clubs can increase that amount through trades, as the Yankees, Rangers and other teams have done.
Kuriyama said before the season that Ohtani was more advanced as a hitter than a pitcher. At roughly $26 million -- posting fee and signing bonus combined -- some MLB teams view Ohtani's hitting ability to be worth that cost alone. But the velocity he showed Thursday -- even with subpar location -- makes the investment even more cost-effective.
*Jon Paul Morosi *is a national columnist for MLB.com.