Sports | May 24, 2019 9:08 am

Top Pick Choosing Japan Over MLB Could Have Big Ramifications

Carter Stewart chose the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks instead of the Atlanta Braves

Carter Stewart was selected eighth overall in the 2018 MLB Draft. (Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty)
Carter Stewart was selected eighth overall in the 2018 MLB Draft. (Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty)
MLB Photos via Getty Images

Earlier this week, top prospect Carter Stewart reached an agreement with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and will be playing in the Japanese Pacific League instead of Major League Baseball.

The 19-year-old pitcher, who was selected by the Atlanta Braves with the eighth pick in the 2018 draft but never signed with the team, agreed to a six-year contract worth more than $7 million with the Hawks.

By joining Fukuoka instead of going back into this June’s draft, Stewart guarantees himself a substantial amount of money without ever having to slog through the minor leagues, but can still join the majors as a 25-year-old free agent, at least in theory. The move could also have long-term ramifications for future top prospects, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

If Stewart excels, it could change baseball,” Passan writes. “Not only is the money better, the marketing opportunities in Japan for baseball players far exceed those in the United States. Other amateur talent could follow — or at least use the possibility of Japan as a cudgel, potentially forcing MLB to reassess its draft rules.”

Given the financial disparity between toiling in the minors and going pro in Japan, it’s surprising more amateur players don’t do what Stewart, under advisement from his agent Scott Boras, has chosen. After all, young players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other Latin American countries choose to leave home for foreign soil all the time.

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