Red Sox Eyeing 18-Year-Old Japanese Lefty Yusei Kikuchi

There's another Japanese pitching sensation making headlines across the pond and once again, the Red Sox are reportedly one of many teams interested.

Lefty Yusei Kikuchi, an 18-year-old prep-school ace is contemplating forgoing the Nippon Professional Baseball draft and entering next year's MLB draft. The 6-foot-1 hurler has until Oct. 15 to enter the NPB amateur draft. If he stays in Japan, he is expected to be the league's No. 1 overall pick.

According to the Boston Globe, the Red Sox are among many teams expecting to meet with the player later this month along with the Dodgers, Yankees and Mariners.

MLB.com is reporting that the Mets, Cubs, Giants, Tigers, Braves, Rangers and Indians have also shown interest in the young stud and have reportedly watched Kikuchi in tournaments. In a recent Japanese showcase tournament, Kikuchi struck out the side in one inning of work and threw a 95 mph heater.

What may deter the lefty from entering the MLB draft is a rule that the NPB put into action after Junichi Tazawa hopped the pond last offseason to sign with the Red Sox. Should Kikuchi pull out of the NPB draft to enter the MLB draft, he will be suspended from pitching in the NPB for three seasons (the "Tazawa Rule?") — a hefty punishment should he flop in the United States.

Kikuchi's high school coach, Hiroshi Sasaki, told Kyodo News Service that the pitcher "says he is about 50-50" as to his decision.

Last year, the Sox signed Tazawa to a three-year, $3.3 million contract after the right-hander requested that NPB teams not draft him. The difference between Tazawa and Kikuchi is that Tazawa was 22 at the time and was pitching in a Japanese industrial league while Kikuchi, 18, is fresh out of high school.

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