Royals ink youngest-ever Japanese player to sign with major league team

The Kansas City Royals signed 16-year-old Japanese pitcher Kaito Yuki to a minor league contract with a $322,500 signing bonus over the weekend, making him what is thought to be the youngest player to ever sign with a major league team.

Yuki, who is still in junior high school in Japan, said that he wants to come to the United States to play rather than take the traditional route through Japanese high school ball. He will be one of the first Japanese players to forgo a career in Nippon Professional Baseball (the Japanese league) with the intent of going straight to the MLB.

“I wanted to play in the United States as soon as possible, rather than playing high school ball at Koshien Stadium (in Japan’s iconic national championship),” Yuki said, according to Kyodo News. 

Yuki is listed at 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, and his fastball is said to sit around 87-88 miles per hour. He was born in May 2002, and grew up in the same city as Yu Darvish.

He is scheduled to arrive at the Royals’ Arizona Spring Training facility in Arizona in August, and then would participate in the Royals’ fall instructional league in September and October. If all goes smoothly, he would make his professional debut in the minors next year.

“The first thing is for him to be patient and build up his body, and then if he stays on course, in five years get an invite to major league spring training,” said Hiroyuki Oya, a Royals international scout.

Newly-signed Kaito Yuki with Royals scout  Hiroyuki Oya. (Associated Press)

First move in Royals’ stated international initiative

Historically, the Royals have struggled to attract top international talent. General manager Dayton Moore believes this is a result of playing in a landlocked Midwestern city. Thus, the team has acquired Japanese players via trades rather than signing them from abroad; most recently, outfielder Nori Aoki joined the team via a trade after two seasons in the MLB.

Two years ago, Moore began a concerted effort to increase his team’s scouting presence in Japan, and Yuki’s signing is a somewhat strong statement that the Royals are serious about the new tactic. They discovered Yuki while was playing for Japan in a youth tournament in the U.S. last year, then worked to establish a relationship that would draw him back to the States. 

Besides Aoki, the Royals have been home to three other Japanese players, all pitchers: Hideo Nomo, Mac Suzuki and Yasubiko Yubuta.

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