Tribe interested in Japanese prep star

Tribe interested in Japanese prep star

CLEVELAND -- The Indians have shown an interest in high-profile Japanese pitching prospect Yusei Kikuchi, but it's unclear whether Kikuchi is committed to coming to the Major Leagues.

Kikuchi, an 18-year-old left-hander, is generally regarded as the likely No. 1 pick in the Japanese amateur draft later this month. But like Junichi Tazawa a year ago, he could request that the Japanese teams don't draft him so that he can pursue a Major League career. Tazawa signed a three-year, $3.3 million contract with the Red Sox last winter and made his big league debut in August.

John Mirabelli, the Indians' assistant general manager in charge of scouting, said the Tribe's interest in Kikuchi is legitimate but that Kikuchi hasn't confirmed his intentions.

"Our scout over there is going to be sitting down with him and his adviser shortly," Mirabelli said.

It's possible that the Japanese teams, still upset over the way the Tazawa situation unfolded, might choose to draft Kikuchi, regardless of his wishes. If that's the case, then he wouldn't be eligible to sign with a Major League team until he accrues nine years of service in Nippon Professional Baseball or a team makes him available through the posting system.

If Kikuchi goes undrafted in Japan, he would be eligible to sign with any Major League club at any price. If a bidding war ensues, then the small-market Indians would obviously not be a favorite to land him. For now, however, only eight to 10 clubs have shown a legitimate interest in Kikuchi.

Kikuchi, who according to a report on NPBtracker.com has a fastball in the 87-96 mph range, made a name for himself in the recent Koshien high school tournament.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.