SAN FRANCISCO — A couple of weeks ago, a Giants official expressed amazement about how little was known about the desires of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani.
“Teams know just about as much as you guys (in the media),” he said.
The Giants are hoping that changes this week. General manager Bobby Evans and assistant GM Jeremy Shelley have traveled to Japan to take a look at the 23-year-old, who reportedly will come over to play in Major League Baseball next season.
“There’s going to be a lot of attention on him and it’s part of the scouting process every club goes through,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s doing our due diligence, as you say.”
Otani is a rare prospect, a potential ace on the mound and lineup-altering bat in the outfield. He has 47 homers in just over 1,000 professional at-bats, and this season he’s batting .341. As a hard-throwing pitcher with a wipeout breaking ball, Otani has a 2.57 career ERA for the Nippon Ham Fighters. He had a 1.86 ERA last season with 174 strikeouts in 140 innings.
Because he’s said to be coming over at such a young age, Otani will sacrifice the chance to sign a massive contract. The CBA limits him to collecting money from a team’s international bonus pool, and the Giants are limited to $300,000. Still, some other big-market teams are in the same boat, and despite their lack of pool money and poor season, the Giants surely believe they have plenty to offer.
It’s not known what Otani is looking for, but perhaps he wants to play in a big city to make up some of his lost earnings? Perhaps he wants to play on the West Coast, closer to his home country, or in a region with a big Japanese population? Perhaps he’s just a big Buster Posey fan? The Giants intend to find out, and to be in the bidding.
It’s possible that Otani has seen the way Bochy uses Madison Bumgarner as a pinch-hitter, but Bochy said he can’t imagine using a true two-way player.
“I don’t think it would work,” he said. “You’re talking more of something that might work in the American League. That’s a lot of throwing and wear-and-tear.”