Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

MLB pitches to Kikuchi

October 22, 2009

Major League Baseball teams are lining up to lure Japanese high school baseball pitcher Yusei Kikuchi across the Pacific to join them in an unprecedented raid on the country’s young talent.

Kikuchi, an 18-year-old left-hander from Hanamaki Higashi High School in northern Japan, would be the most coveted young Japanese player to join an MLB team, but he is equally desired by Japan’s 12 professional teams.BASEBALL-JAPAN/KIKUCHI

His star rose at the national high school baseball tournament this summer as his 155 kph (96mph) fastball dazzled. Japan’s Koshien tournment is a big thing even for non-baseball fans in Japan, as the event catapults high school players into the pro ranks.

Sometimes just one high school star can affect an entire team’s fortunes. Masahiro Tanaka, now a starting pitcher for Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles, was a high school phenomenon in the summer of 2006.

MLB, which had previously observed a kind of “gentleman’s agreement” with Japanese pro baseball that it would not recruit high school talent, made no overt offers to Tanaka, unlike the aggressive efforts with Kikuchi.  

Tanaka, who won 15 games this year, has also helped Rakuten increase fans. His team is now playing against the Nippon Ham Fighters in its first play-off season, a homecoming for Tanaka as he played in Hokkaido during his high school days and has many fans there.

Kikuchi may become another Tanaka in the future. That is, if MLB teams do not swoop in and remove a future star from Japanese playing fields.

Should young Japanese stars go directly to MLB after high school, rather than staying in Japan for some time to help to keep the local sport strong?

Photo credit: Kyodo


When it comes down to things…I think that it would be best for the Japanese players to stay a little while in Japan and really make Baseball a part of the Japanese society. If after making an impact on Japanese youth female/male, they still want to play in the states than so be it.

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