Sources: Pitcher skips MLB draft for Japan deal

play
Wingo: Stewart signing in Japan is a 'problem for baseball' (1:52)

Trey Wingo compares Braves prospect Carter Stewart opting to sign in Japan to Kyler Murray choosing the NFL, leaving MLB with a problem. (1:52)

Nineteen-year-old pitcher Carter Stewart is in agreement with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League on a six-year contract worth more than $7 million, a groundbreaking deal that could have long-term ramifications for Major League Baseball's amateur and professional sides, sources told ESPN.

Stewart, who was chosen by the Atlanta Braves with the eighth pick in the 2018 draft out of a Florida high school but did not sign after they reduced their signing-bonus offer due to an alleged injury, was expected to be chosen in the early second round of this June's draft. By signing with Fukuoka, which has won four of the past five Japan Series, Stewart would guarantee himself significantly more money than he would have made with a major league organization -- and could theoretically join the major leagues as a 25-year-old free agent.

The deal, first reported by The Athletic, is expected to be finalized at the end of the month, according to sources. The 6-foot-6 Stewart, whose fastball sits in the mid-90s and curveball has spun at an elite 3,000 RPMs, would be the first American amateur to join a Japanese team on a long-term deal. Unlike Brandon Jennings and other basketball players who have avoided the NBA's early-entry rule by taking a gap year abroad, Stewart would be committed to the Hawks through the cusp of his 25th birthday.

The contract includes escalators that could take it beyond the $7 million-plus guaranteed. Had he opted to stay in the United States, Stewart likely would have received a bonus of less than $2 million and made even less over the next six years, barring a rapid ascent to the major leagues.

The secondary benefit for Stewart could be even more lucrative: International free agents 25 or older can sign with any major league team without restrictions, so long as their Japanese team enters them into the posting system. Were Stewart to play in Japan for the next six years, sources told ESPN, he would be considered, under the present rules, an international free agent eligible for posting.

Although the limit of four foreign players per Japanese team could stem an influx of American players, elite amateur talent could begin to use the prospect of going to Japan -- not just for the greater guarantee in money but the earlier access to free agency -- as a cudgel in negotiations.

Stewart's agent, Scott Boras, has long tried to use the prospect of taking an amateur player to Japan for leverage purposes. Never until Stewart had one come close to agreeing to a deal. Boras, who has exploited multiple draft loopholes in the past, opted for a 7,500-mile end-around with Stewart.

Stewart is in Japan now and is expected to join a minor league affiliate of the Hawks upon the completion of his deal. At Eastern Florida State College, the junior college where he pitched this spring, Stewart went 2-2 with a 1.70 ERA in 74⅓ innings and struck out 108.