Nippon-Ham Fighters pitcher-slash-outfielder Shohei Otani is the best player in the world who isn't in the majors -- and who might not be in the majors anytime soon. Unfortunately, American fans hoping to get a look at Otani up close during the upcoming World Baseball Classic have been dealt yet another blow.
That's because on Friday, Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo announced Otani will be taken off the 28-man WBC roster due to a nagging ankle injury. The initial thought was Otani would hit but not pitch at the WBC. Now he won't do either.
"The condition (of his ankle) hasn't reached a level we had hoped. We're not in a position where we can ask him to push it," said Kokubo, who revealed that he notified Otani of the decision over the phone.
The two-way Nippon Ham Fighters player had been suffering from pain in his right ankle after he injured it while base running in Game 4 of the Japan Series on Oct. 26.
The injury worsened during the national squad's warm-up games against Mexico and the Netherlands in November, eventually prompting him to train separately from his teammates in Arizona, where the Fighters' spring training officially began Wednesday.
Otani, 22, was named Pacific League MVP last season after going 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 140 innings on the mound, as well as hitting .322/.416/.588 with 22 home runs in 382 plate appearances. He broke his own record for the fastest pitch in Japanese baseball history several times, topping out at 103 mph.