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Japan's Otani reportedly primed for move to Major League Baseball

© JIJI PRESS/AFP/File | Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Shohei Otani, pictured in 2015, will have the opportunity to play Stateside between November and March when his team makes him available for bids from Major League Baseball teams

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - 

Shohei Otani, a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher and left-handed hitter dubbed the Japanese Babe Ruth, is expected to head to Major League Baseball in 2018, US media reported.

Otani hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 runs-batted-in in 104 games and had a 1.86 earned run average and 174 strikeouts in 140 innings for the Nippon Ham Fighters last season.

He missed two months early this season and a stretch in July and August with injuries to his ankle and thigh -- but he still has batted .346 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs in 51 games.

On Tuesday, Otani pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings in just his third start of the season.

The 6-foot-4-inch (1.93m) player, whose fastball approaches 100 mph (161 km/h), inked a one-year $2.37 million contract with the Fighters in December. He will not become eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, and therefore needs the team's approval to negotiate with a major league club.

New restrictions under baseball's latest collective bargaining agreement will cost Otani millions of dollars.

Under the old rules he would have been considered a free agent at the age of 23, and could have signed a contract with a US team worth $150 million or more.

Now however, international players under the age of 25 are subject to a bonus pool system that will only allow him to sign for a more modest minor league contract with a bonus of about $10.1 million.

He indicated in an April interview in Sports Illustrated that the money wasn't a major concern.

"As long as I have enough money to be able to play baseball and am enjoying baseball, that's all I'm asking for right now," Otani said.

Multiple outlets reported that Nippon Ham Fighters will post Otani between November and March, making him available to US clubs who will have four days to bid on his services.

© 2017 AFP