Amateur Tazawa bypassing Japan leagues for MLB
Updated: September 12, 2008, 3:51 PM ETBy Jim Allen | Special to ESPN.com
TOKYO -- The other shoe finally dropped.Since 1995, when veteran pitcher Hideo Nomo fled Japan for the majors, it was only a matter of time before a top-level amateur prospect shunned Japanese pro ball altogether. That time is now. On Thursday, pitcher Junichi Tazawa announced he would ignore Japan and focus on a career in the majors.
"I feel strongly that the best course is to test myself in America," Tazawa told a packed press conference in Tokyo. Tazawa, who plays for corporate league club Eneos, was the MVP of the prestigious corporate league Intercity Championship. Starting and relieving, the 22-year-old struck out 36 batters in 28 1/3 innings, and went 4-0 with one shutout. Eneos manager Hideaki Okubo acknowledged that several major league teams have shown interest in his star, who also starred for Japan in November's World Cup. "At the very least, five teams have been coming around," Okubo said. The Nikkan Sports' Friday edition reported that scouts from the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers have been following Tazawa. The paper also said the Boston Red Sox observed him at a March tournament, during which Tazawa struck out 18 batters in one game and was named tourney MVP. The pitcher's decision sent shock waves through a pro establishment that is already reeling from the losses of its most valuable veterans. Although Nippon Professional Baseball has no right to prevent amateurs from going abroad, major league clubs have, with one exception, refrained from pursuing top prospects. Tazawa's announcement prompted an emergency meeting of representatives from NPB's 12 teams. Two of the teams have not ruled out the possibility of drafting Tazawa against his wishes, a move that would force interested MLB teams to break with custom and compete openly with a domestic club. "I can't say where we will go with this, but we are a team that might select him," said Toshi Shimada, an executive of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Tazawa's hometown team, the Yokohama BayStars, admitted they too have not given up on the pitcher. This is the kind of trouble, however, that Okubo is hoping to avoid. The manager wanted Tazawa to quickly go public with his decision so Japanese teams would not get their hopes up, only to be rejected.
Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty ImagesJunichi Tazawa, a 5-foot-11 right-hander, has already drawn interest from several major league teams.
Japanese pitchers in MLB
The following have pitched in the major leagues in 2008:
|Daisuke Matsuzaka||Red Sox|
|Hideki Okajima||Red Sox|
If I were to turn pro in Japan, it is very possible that I would end up playing out my career here. I think there is a lot of hardship ahead over [in the U.S.], but I want to learn that there."
"A bigger issue was my English. In the end, I just wasn't confident I could make the transition to life over there."Now, another young man finds himself with a similar choice, but staying in Japan does not appear to be an option for Tazawa. "I am anxious about a lot of things, but I want to try this," he said. "I don't know if I would call myself confident. "If I were to turn pro in Japan, it is very possible that I would end up playing out my career here. I think there is a lot of hardship ahead over there [in the U.S.], but I want to learn that there." Jim Allen covers baseball for The Daily Yomiuri in Japan.