Astros: Could Houston be in on the Japanese Babe Ruth, Shohei Otani?

May 29, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; General view of a Houston Astros helmet and glove before a game against the Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
May 29, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; General view of a Houston Astros helmet and glove before a game against the Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

The Astros have a chance to sign one of the biggest international stars in recent memory.

Japanese pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Otani could come to America for a hefty price tag north of $300 million.

Otani will most likely be coming to the American majors sometime during the 2017 off-season. At which time, virtually any team with the means to do so, will be vying for his services. The 22-year-old has some electric stuff in his repertoire, including a Japan Pacific League record for the fastest pitch ever thrown. The pitch came in at 165 km/h or about 102 mph.

The 6′ 4″ right-handed pitcher is poised to become one of the best and highest paid players in the MLB. He chases a triple-digit fastball with some above-average secondary pitches including a curve, cutter and splitter. He started his career in the JPPL at the ripe young age of 18 and immediately found success.

In his first season, he started 11 games and went 3-0 with a 4.23 ERA. He made a significant leap in his second season with an 11-4 record and a 2.61 ERA. Over his four seasons playing for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters he is 39-13 with a 2.49 ERA and 595 strikeouts in 517 inning pitched. In 2016, Otani won the league’s best pitcher award.

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Otani has the ability to instantly become a number one in a major league rotation and the ace is a position the Astros front office is currently trying to fill. But, the market for such a pitcher is extremely thin this off-season. If the Astros were to wait on adding that key pitcher to their staff this season, they could be in hot pursuit of Otani in 2017.

However, the thing that makes Otani such an unusually dynamic player is his ability to succeed both on the mound and at the plate. He is a rare mix of a right-handed power pitcher and a left-handed power hitter. There have been scouts that follow Otani that have said with the right coaching he could become a 45-homer guy. This past season in the JPPL, Otani hit .322/.416/.588 with 22 HR and 67 RBI in just 382 plate appearances.

He also won the league’s award for best DH to go along with his best pitcher award.

This becomes a little less significant if he ends up playing for an American League team such as the Astros. But when he is the DH for the Fighters when he is not pitching. Not saying that he will do the same for an MLB team. But it is definitely something to think about with someone of his talents. He was named the JPPL MVP following the 2016 season. An award previously earned by now major league players; Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka.

Otani will likely be looking for a contract somewhere in the $200 million range.

However, if he intends to sign for that amount of money, he will have to wait until he is 25-years-old due to the new international signing rules in the collective bargaining agreement. The new CBA limits teams to spending a maximum of $5 million on any international player under 25. Although, there is a way to get that total up to $10 million by trading for international spending money. Still significantly less than he would be searching for. So Otani, only 22-years old, may choose to stay in Japan for another three years before we see him in an MLB uniform.

But this is a rare, versatile talent that the MLB has not seen for some time.  The majors may not have seen this kind of ambidexterity since the days of Babe Ruth. Of course, I am not saying that Shohei Otani is as good as the Great Bambino.

Next: Astros Rumors: Beware the price of a Jose Quintana deal.

And Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez will not be besting the beast for his autographed baseball anytime soon. But with this much potential packed into a 22-year-old, you never really know what could happen.

**Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference**