Cherington on Japanese pitching phenom Otani

Cherington on Japanese pitching phenom Otani
October 24, 2012, 6:01 pm
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BOSTON -- Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington confirmed that the team has met with Japanese right-hander Shohei Otani, the high school phenom. But, Cherington offered little more than that.

I can confirm that we met with him, but Im not going to say anything else, Cherington said. Hes a respected young pitching prospect in Japan.

I dont want to get into what we do to try to evaluate players, but he is someone weve talked about.

The Yankees, Orioles, Rangers, and Dodgers are reportedly also interested in Otani, who has expressed his preference for pitching in Major League Baseball, requesting that Japanese teams do not draft him. The Japanese draft is Thursday.

Great players from every country go to MLB, Otani said on Sunday, according to Japanese sports newspaper Sponichi. I dont want to lose to those players.

In coming to the United States, Otani, who is just 18, would have challenges any other teenager would have leaving a familiar environment to enter a foreign culture. Just as there are challenges for a team bringing in such a player.

This isnt specific to Otani, Cherington said, but any young player whos a teenage player who comes to the United States, whether theyre from the Dominican, Korea, or Taiwan, theres an assimilation challenge. Its important for us to help them assimilate in a way, get
comfortable in a way that they can focus on their work on the field and developing as baseball players. So if youre going to invest in signing a young player and bringing him out of his comfort zone, out of his home country to the United States and a different environment, you have an obligation to surround them with the right resources and get them as comfortable as we can. So we do that to the best of our ability no matter where the player's from.

The Sox have had similar experiences in recent years with Japanese pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka, Junichi Tazawa, and Hideki Okajima. Matsuzaka and Okajima had already established careers in Japan before coming to the U.S. Tazawa was 22 when the Sox signed him in December 2008 after four seasons in the Japanese industrial league. He pitched just one season in the Sox organization, including six games and four starts for the major league team, before undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2010. He was not activated until June 27, 2011.He blossomed this season, going 1-1 with a 1.43 ERA in 37 appearances, a 0.955 WHIP and 9.00 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

In Tazawas case we spent a lot of time trying to make sure the right resources were around him, Cherington said. In particular when he went through surgery, coming back from that. Its a difficult thing to do for a young pitcher in a foreign country. So we feel like were built to address the challenges that come for players from any part of the world.

Cherington said he has not spoken to Matsuzaka since the end of the season, and has not had any communication with agent Scott Boras, who counts Matsuzaka among his many clients. Matsuzaka is eligible to be a free agent, after six seasons with the Sox.

We have not had any discussions with Matsuzaka yet, Cherington said. Wouldnt rule it out, but havent had any discussion with him yet. Im sure hes going to have a chance to talk to other teams and see whats out there for him. Our expectation is that he wants to pitch. Certainly respect the way he went about things here even thought the last few seasons didnt go the way he wanted them to. He was always professional, worked extremely hard, and gave it everything he had when he was out there. Hopefully, hell be two years out of surgery next year, hell be in a better position to do what hes capable of doing."