Last winter, almost every club in Major League Baseball tried to woo Japan’s Shohei Ohtani before he decided to join the Los Angeles Angels. Now, the Kansas City Royals have signed a 16-year-old Japanese pitcher who just graduated from junior high.
It’s not unusual for teenagers from Latin America to sign contracts as young as 16, but this is a first for Japanese baseball – where transfers to American teams have a complicated and contentious history.
There’s an agreement between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball known as the Posting System. Japanese teams can refuse to post a player who wants to go to the U.S. for up to nine years. If the team does agree, the player is put up for auction and his Japanese club gets a percentage of the contract.
The Japanese Professional Baseball Players association has described the system as “human trafficking,” and some of the team owners don’t like it either, because it allows the U.S. to poach the best Japanese players.
This week, 16-year-old Kaito Yuki opted out of the entire Japanese system. Skipping out on professional baseball in Japan is one thing. By signing out of junior high, he will also miss the Koshien, the high school baseball tournament that’s enormously popular in Japan.
“I wanted to play in the United States as soon as possible,” he told a news conference in his home town of Osaka, “My goal is to do well in the major leagues.”
Kaito stands 6’2” tall, with an 88 mile an hour fastball. He signed a standard seven-year contract with a bonus of 322,000 dollars. Once the paperwork is complete, he’s expected to report to the Kansas City Royals spring training facility in Surprise, Arizona and make his professional debut next season in the minor leagues.