Having forsaken Japan’s professional baseball ranks with an eye towards North American success, P Junichi Tazawa has signed with the Boston Red Sox, inking a 3-year, $3 million pact the Boston Globe’s Tony Massaroti calls a precursor towards the right-hander quickly advancing thru the minors.

Though Tazawa was courted by several teams and offered more money by at least one – the Texas Rangers – the pitcher reportedly was interested in pitching for the Sox. Team officials have been scouting Tazawa for more than a year after having made major inroads in the Japan talent pool with the signings of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima during the 2006-07 offseason.

As for Tazawa, assessments of his talents have varied and, in some cases, been grossly inaccurate. Some reports have placed his fastball in the range of 95-97 miles per hour when, in fact, Tazawa has been clocked consistently in the low 90s. He is said to have good command of both a breaking ball and changeup, the latter reportedly having the action of a split-fingered fastball.

One major league evaluator placed Tazawa’s talent in the range of a mid- to high first-round draft selection, suggesting that his upside could be quite high. However, Sox officials are being cautious about overhyping the pitcher in the wake of the success of Matsuzaka, who became the subject of international interest when the Sox spent a whopping $51.11 million solely for his negotiating rights, and Okajima.

Earlier this offseason, one Sox official likened Tazawa, at a minimum, to former major leaguer Shigetoshi Hasegawa, a middle reliever and setup man who pitched quite effectively for the Seattle Mariners and the Anaheim Angels from 1997-2005.