SoftBank Hawks to Sign American Pitching Prospect Carter Stewart

In what would apparently be a first, the SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s NPB are reported to be on the verge of signing U.S. amateur pitcher Carter Stewart for more than $4 million.  Stewart was the 8th overall selection in last year’s MLB Draft but did not sign with the Atlanta Braves, after a ligament issue in his wrist turned up in his medical records and the Braves lowered their offer to him, down to what was likely about $2 million instead of the nearly $5 million slot value.

After failing to sign with the Braves, Stewart enrolled with a Florida junior college, Eastern Florida State College, where he has pitched well this Spring.  In 13 starts, he has posted a 1.74 ERA with a pitching line of 74.1 IP, 41 hits, three HRs and 26 BBs and 108Ks.  Fangraphs.com currently ranks Stewart as the 55th best prospect in this year’s MLB draft.

By signing for the Hawks for the money that Stewart expected to get last summer (and possibly then some), the Hawks will presumably have Stewart’s rights for nine NPB major league seasons, like all other amateurs who sign their first pro contracts with NPB teams.  It’s possible, of course, that Stewart’s representatives contracted for some variation of this requirement — for example, that Stewart has to be posted after 4 to 6 full NPB seasons — but I can’t imagine that the Hawks would give Stewart a $4M+ guarantee without being guaranteed at least four or five full years of NPB major league service from Stewart.

Obviously, the Hawks get in Stewart a prospect of a caliber that comes not more than about once a year for all 12 NPB teams to fight over in the NPB amateur draft.  The Hawks can certainly afford to shell out for Stewart as one of NPB’s three rich teams along with the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers.

The down-side to signing Stewart for all this money is that he could, of course, get hurt and thus never develop. Presumably, there are some legitimate concerns about his wrist tendon, or the Braves would have offered him a bigger signing bonus last year.

Also, since Stewart didn’t play high school or college ball in Japan, he would count against the major league four-roster-spot-limit for foreign players.  However, the wealthy NPB teams are now signing about six NPB-major-league-worthy foreigners every year in order to protected against injuries and slumps and to provide roster flexibility during the season.

I can see why Stewart would be angry at the Braves for selecting him high and then low-balling him, and I can see why he would want a big initial guarantee in light of the frequency with which high school pitchers end up getting seriously hurt before they reach their MLB major league pay days.  However, it’s clear that Stewart is almost certainly leaving money on the table if he is good enough to be an MLB major league star.   Once MLB stars reach their second or third salary arbitration off-season, they make a lot more money than any player makes in NPB, where salaries are effectively capped at about $5M or $6M even for the very best veteran NPB superstars.

It also remains to be seen how a 19 year old American adjusts to life and baseball in Japan.  It isn’t easy to do, and few foreign players in NPB have much success before their age 26 season, in part, I think, because a certain maturity level is needed to adjust to living and playing in Japan.  It’s not like playing in the U.S., and American and Latin American players need a certain amount of mental flexibility and focus to deal with the differences.

Stewart signing with the Hawks will be great for American amateur players and their agents going forward, since they can now credibly threaten to take their talents some place else.  It may even force MLB to allocate more money to amateur draft bonus pools to ward off the possibility that future amateur players might elect to take their talents to Japan.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Atlanta Braves, Baseball Abroad, NPB

5 Comments on “SoftBank Hawks to Sign American Pitching Prospect Carter Stewart”

  1. Burly Says:

    The most recent reports on espn.com say the Hawks gave Stewart a $7M guarantee for six seasons with escalator clauses that could make the deal worth more.

    • Burly Says:

      The reporting implies that the Hawks have agreed to post Stewart after the six season commitment. We will have to wait and see if that is actually the case.

  2. Rob Says:

    Really exciting news, over the past 10 years, this “NPB singing USA’s top amateurs” scenario always come up every now and then.

    While I don’t see it becoming a norm (snatching first rounders), but I think we could potentially see more from the second or third round pool?

    • Burly Says:

      We will see. First rounders might actually make the most sense for the three rich NPB teams on the kind of six-year, $7 million contract for Stewart that is being reported. Certainly, everyone in NPB and MLB will be watching to see if the Hawks can develop the 19 year old Stewart into an NPB star.

  3. Burly Says:

    Latest report is that Stewart is guaranteed $6.2 million and the deal could be worth $11M to $12M with incentives.


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