Once prospects show they are ready for the majors, MLB teams game the system. If Stewart signed with an MLB team, he could expect his big-league debut to be delayed so his team could control his rights for one year longer at a below-market salary. This has become a common tactic for MLB teams. The Braves did it with Ronald Acuna last year.
To get around all those restrictions, Stewart had to be willing to go play overseas. That sounds great to 19-year old me. It may not be appealing for other teenagers.
Minor league baseball in the U.S. is hardly glamorous but, in Japan, Stewart will have to adjust to a different baseball culture. If he makes it to the JPL, he'll have to deal with a smaller strike zone and what some former players allege is bias by umpires against foreign-born players. There's a chance Stewart won't get a lucrative deal as an MLB free agent.
But if the difference between playing here and there is $5 million now and potentially millions more later, then I’d expect other prospects to at least give it serious consideration. If more prospects head to Japan, it would give prospects leverage and put pressure on MLB to increase compensation for prospects.
MLB, which pays minor league salaries, already was in discussions with the organization that governs the minor leagues to improve salaries and working conditions. Congress undercut labor, as usual, when it inserted a provision into last year's spending law that excluded minor league players from minimum wage and overtime laws. MLB lobbied Congress for the favor after it faced lawsuits from minor league players.
Japanese baseball is outside the reach of U.S. crony capitalism and MLB salary rules for prospects. Here’s hoping Stewart is the first of many American baseball prospects to take advantage of a new, fairer market.