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October 16, 2009

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Top US clubs woo Japanese prodigy

JAPANESE schoolboy Yusei Kikuchi will hold "speed interviews" with Major League Baseball clubs as the race to sign the explosive left-hander heats up.

The 18-year-old pitcher is poised to meet representatives from eight MLB clubs, including the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers, beginning today.

Kikuchi's high school said its coveted pitcher would also speak to officials of all 12 Japanese domestic ballclubs over the next four days.

Kikuchi would hold talks with all 20 clubs at his Hanamaki Higashi High School in Iwate, north Japan, school coach Hiroshi Sasaki said.

"We want to be fair to all the clubs," said Sasaki. "It's important to choose the place that's right for him to become the best he can be."

Japanese media yesterday reported that Kikuchi, whose fastball has been clocked at 155 kilometers per hour, will spend just 30 minutes with officials from each club.

Kikuchi will hold talks with the Red Sox, Dodgers, Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants on Monday, the Nikkan Sports newspaper reported. The Yankees, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Mariners are to meet with him the following day.

Japanese baseball officials have requested Kikuchi not consider any offer from MLB clubs before Japan's amateur draft on October 29.

MLB clubs are not bound by the same rule that prevents Japanese teams tabling offers before the draft, meaning Kikuchi could in theory opt to jump straight to the majors.

Last year, Junichi Tazawa snubbed the Japanese draft and joined the Boston Red Sox from Nippon Oil's corporate team - the first such move by a top Japanese amateur player. The Red Sox also have marquee pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who arrived at Fenway Park in 2007 on a US$103 million deal.


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