Top amateur to choose Japan or MLB

Top amateur to choose Japan or MLB

Yusei Kikuchi, the 18-year-old left-hander projected to be the No. 1 overall selection in next month's Japanese amateur draft, is expected to decide as early as this week whether to become the first high school player to bypass Japan's draft and sign with a Major League organization.

Kikuchi pitched an inning for Hanamaki Higashi High School in the National Sports Festival in Niigata on Monday, striking out the side in order while registering a 95-mph fastball. Representatives from all 12 Japanese teams and eight Major League teams were in attendance, according to the Kyodo News Service.

Amateur players must declare for the Oct. 29 draft by Oct. 15. If Kikuchi is drafted by a Japanese team and he instead signs with a Major League club, he would be subjected to a three-year ban from Nippon Professional Baseball if he were to ever want to return to play in Japan.

If Kikuchi were to be drafted and sign with a Japanese team, he would have to wait nine years to be a free agent or enter a posting system, which would require permission from his team to allow Major League clubs to bid for the right to negotiate with the player. Daisuke Matsuzaka took that route when he signed with the Red Sox in December 2006.

Kikuchi's high school coach, Hiroshi Sasaki, told Kyodo that the pitcher "says he is about 50-50" as to his decision.

"We don't want to let him go to the Majors. We definitely want him to remain in Japan," Takayoshi Nakao, a scout for the Hanshin Tigers, told Kyodo.

Scouts from the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Tigers, Braves, Rangers, Mariners and Indians have reportedly watched Kikuchi in tournaments.

"He was impressive," Brian Lambe, a special assistant to the general manager for the Mets, told Kyodo after Kikuchi's tournament outing. "He has a strong, quick arm. Good balance and a strong bottom half."

Right-hander Junichi Tazawa requested that Japanese teams not draft him last year, and he went on to sign a three-year, $3.3 million contract with the Red Sox. But Tazawa, undrafted out of high school, was 22 at the time and had been pitching in a Japanese industrial league.

Tazawa, Kazuhito Tadano and Mac Suzuki are the only Japanese players to have played in the Majors without having played Japanese pro ball.

Bobbie Dittmeier is an editor/producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.