Carter Stewart, the eighth overall selection in last year's MLB draft who went unsigned, has agreed to a six-year contract worth more than $7 million with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball, sources told Jeff Passan of ESPN.
The deal, which Passan reports should be finalized at the end of this month, will result in Stewart beginning his professional career in Japan's minor leagues.
As a high-school senior last June, Stewart was considered one of the top prospects in the 2018 MLB Draft, leading to the Atlanta Braves selecting him eighth overall. However, the Braves offered him a signing bonus far lower than the No. 8 pick's slot value after discovering a wrist injury, and he didn't sign with Atlanta.
Stewart had committed to Mississippi State before the Braves selected him, but after not signing he opted to pitch at Eastern Florida State College, a junior college near his Florida home. The 19-year-old posted a 1.70 ERA and struck out 108 batters while allowing just three homers in 13 starts for the Titans during his freshman year.
By pitching at Eastern Florida State, Stewart maintained his eligibility for the 2019 MLB Draft, and until Tuesday was expected to again be selected in the first round.
Stewart's camp is likely hoping a successful season in NPB will eventually lead him back to the majors as an established star pitcher. However, there are conflicting reports about how he'll be able to do that once his contract with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks expires.
While many American players have forged successful and even iconic careers in NPB after struggling in the majors, very few amateur Americans have chosen to start in Japan's professional ranks.
Young Latin American free agents have occasionally taken this unique path to the majors, most notably in the late 90s when Alfonso Soriano went on to become a seven-time All-Star.
The first round of the 2019 MLB Draft takes place on June 3.