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May 28, 2017

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Shohei Otani's reversal on MLB plans raises concerns over draft

TOKYO -- High school pitcher Shohei Otani's decision to stay in Japan instead of pursuing a career in Major League Baseball has left some questioning the integrity of the country's amateur draft.

The 18-year-old Otani said before November's draft he intended to pursue a career in the major leagues straight out of high school, where he was known for throwing a fastball close to 100 mph (160 kph).

Despite his intentions, the 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) right-hander was selected by the Nippon Ham Fighters in the first round. Following the draft, the Fighters waged an aggressive campaign to convince Otani to stay in Japan instead of going overseas, with the team's hierarchy holding a series of meetings with Otani and his parents.

Otani announced Sunday he would play for the Fighters next season.

The Fighters were the only team that selected Otani. The other 11 teams in Japanese professional baseball decided not to draft him knowing his desire to play in the MLB.

"There were a lot of backroom discussions," Rakuten Eagles manager Senichi Hoshino was quoted in Monday's Nikkansports. "If you are going to have such things going on it could ruin the draft."

The Fighters were determined to convince Otani, detailing the hardships he would face in the U.S. and even offering him the No. 11 uniform previously worn by Yu Darvish, who now plays for the Texas Rangers.

Otani said he still wants to play in the major leagues someday, but it may be a long time before he's able to fulfill those dreams.

Players in Japanese professional baseball must wait nine seasons before becoming free agents eligible to play in the MLB, although some have gone earlier through the posting system that allows MLB teams to bid for the rights to negotiate with Japanese players.

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