To the surprise of many MLB executives, top pitching prospect Carter Stewart and his representatives announced that he would withdraw from this year’s MLB draft and sign a contract with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League on a six-year contract worth more than $7 million. Stewart was drafted last year as the 8th overall selection out of high school, but failed to sign with the team that drafted him, the Atlanta Braves. He features a mid-90s fastball, with a curveball that spins at over 3000 RPM.
This is an interesting development as it opens the door for many draftees and top prospects to consider playing internationally, rather than following the traditional minor league pathway. By playing internationally, players can be posted as international free agents after 6 years of service, versus the 6 year service time requirement at the major league level to become a MLB free agent. This allows for more financial freedom on the part of the player.
It is also important to note how competitive leagues are becoming across the globe. In addition to the Japanese Pacific League, leagues in Mexico, Korea, and other countries feature a plethora of major league talent. While many players move over to these leagues from the minors, it will be interesting to see if prospects will soon follow in Stewart’s footsteps, and start their career internationally before coming back over stateside.