Orioles prospect Xu Guiyuan is spending time with his new teammates and learning about their culture. (Baltimore Sun video)
China's most advanced baseball player is taking indoor batting practice.
The pitcher is flipping the ball underhanded toward the player, Orioles minor leaguer Xu Guiyuan, then ducking behind netting so he's not pummeled by line drives.
Rock music blares as the left-handed Xu strides into each pitch with a sweeping swing. He ends by pointing his left hand toward the ceiling like a jump shooter holding his follow-through after a shot.
The swing looks sound. But will Xu's talents – evident in the cages and against his peers in China – translate against American pitching? That is the big unknown.
There are questions about Xu, as there are for most minor league prospects. If the questions seem more pronounced, that's because of the attention surrounding Xu, the first player ever signed from one of Major League Baseball's three China development centers.
Arriving at Orioles minor league spring training this week, Xu Guiyuan, a 20-year-old left-handed-hitting first baseman, is trying to become the first player from mainland China to make it to the big leagues. He's already the first player signed from one of the major league's three youth developmental centers in China, a country that American baseball officials consider fertile ground to grow their sport. He has adopted the nickname "Itchy Shoe," a reference to his hero, Ichiro Suzuki, and the phonetic pronunciation of "Xu." The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Barker is following Xu's journey with daily reports and videos: Can he hit American pitching, much less navigate the pressure and cultural curveballs that accompany his 9,000-mile trip? Barker is involved in a documentary chronicling Xu and Major League Baseball's China push.