July 9, 2018
Osaka- The Kansas City Royals have agreed to sign a 16-year-old Japanese pitcher Kaito Yuki, who graduated from a junior high school only months ago, to a minor league contract.
Yuki is the youngest Japanese baseball player to ink a deal with a U.S. major league team, according to Hiroyuki Oya, an international scout for the Royals, a team in the American League Central Division.
Yuki, a native of the city of Habikino, Osaka Prefecture, western Japan, is slated to move to the United States shortly to join a development program.
When he was a junior high school student, Yuki played at one of youth baseball teams in the prefecture. Some Japanese high schools with competitive baseball clubs invited Yuki to move on to the schools after his graduation from the junior high school, but he declined the offers and chose to play in the United States.
"I was surprised, but at the same time, I was happy when the Royals first contacted me," he told a press conference in the prefecture on Sunday. Yuki said: "I now strongly hope to go to the United States soon and play baseball there. My current goal is to pitch well in the U.S. major leagues."
The 188-centimeter-tall right-hander throws a curveball, slider and splitter, on top of a 144-kilometer-per-hour fastball.
Yuki was selected for the Japanese national team for a youth baseball tournament held in the United States in summer last year, when he was a junior high school third-grader.
"After I played in the United States (for the youth tournament), I became more willing to play there than to take on a challenge to qualify for Koshien," Yuki said, referring to the mecca for Japanese high school baseball players.
Koshien, officially Hanshin Koshien Stadium, located in the city of Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, which neighbors Osaka, is the home stadium of the Hanshin Tigers, a Japanese professional baseball team, and hosts spring and summer Japanese high school baseball tournaments.
Yuki said "I've been aiming to play like" Japanese major leaguer Yu Darvish partly because the Chicago Cubs right-hander is also from Habikino. Darvish started his professional career at the Japanese club Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, and then moved to the U.S. major leagues to play for the Texas Rangers and next for the Los Angeles Dodgers before transferring to the Cubs. Jiji Press
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