Royals sign pitcher believed to be youngest player yet from Japan

The Royals on Sunday announced the signing of a pitcher some are calling Yu Darvish II: Kaito Yuki, 16.
The Royals on Sunday announced the signing of a pitcher some are calling Yu Darvish II: Kaito Yuki, 16. Kansas City Royals

Reflecting a fresh approach to extend their scouting operations into the Pacific Rim, the Royals have signed Kaito Yuki, a 16-year-old pitcher from Japan who is believed to be the youngest player from his country to sign with a major-league club.

Yuki is a 6-foot-2, 170-pound right-hander from Tondabayashi City in Osaka Prefecture who recently graduated from junior high school. He popped onto the Royals’ radar in recent months following the additions of Pacific Rim coordinator Phil Dale and Japan scout Hiro Oya to the club’s staff.

Scouts have drawn comparisons between Yuki and Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish, according to a report from a Japanese outlet published early Sunday that referred to Yuki as “Darvish II.”

Yuki is a projectable arm who in the last year has seen his fastball climb up to 88 mph. He has also begun to show a natural ability to wield a breaking pitch.

Although he will not pitch this season, Yuki will soon come to the United States to begin acclimating himself to the culture and language. The Royals hope he will join the team’s instructional league in the fall but aim for Yuki to make his professional debut in 2019.

Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar's 421 game streak came to an end, after manager Ned Yost chose not to add Escobar to the lineup for Sunday's July 8, 2018 game against the Boston Red Sox.

Yuki’s signing is the latest example of the Royals extending their international operation beyond the borders of Latin America, where they focused most of their energy when general manager Dayton Moore’s tenure began in 2006. They also signed 19-year-old Chih-Ting Wang, a pitcher from Taiwan, during the 2017 international period.

“The commitment that Mr. Glass and the Glass family, our president, Dayton Moore (is important),” said assistant general manager Rene Francisco. “We want to expand our scouting to different areas. Phil and Hiro should make us better. They are going to make us better.”

Yuki is one of 20 international prospects to sign with the Royals during the 2018 period that opened on July 2. The list also includes pitcher Yefri del Rosario and outfielder Juan Carlos Negret, who the Royals signed in December following the international signing scandal that led to MLB granting free agency to 12 prospects in the Braves’ system. Omar Florentino and Wilmin Candelario, two switch-hitting shortstops from the Dominican Republic, are among the others. They’ve also signed Venezuelan players Jose Freites, a right-handed-hitting outfielder, and Dionne Salon, a right-handed catcher.

During this period, the Royals have signed four left-handed pitchers, eight right-handed pitchers, three infielders, four outfielders and one catcher.

There have been plenty of Japanese players who’ve left the country’s professional league and made waves in the United States — Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani this year became the 64th Japanese-born player to make the move, according to — but few, if any, have taken the route Yuki has committed himself to.

“He’s not even in high school,” said Francisco, who oversees international operations. “He and his family chose to sign with Kansas City instead of going the normal route Japanese players take. It’s pretty amazing what this kid is doing.

“Credit to Phil and Hiro.”