TOKYO (AP) _ The New York Mets, rebuffed last year in attempts to acquire Japanese star Hideki Irabu, have signed an 18-year-old Japanese pitcher.

The Mets signed lefty Juei Ushiromatsu after Japanese pro baseball teams overlooked him in their draft last week, Kyodo News said.

Irabu, a hard-throwing righty called the ``Nolan Ryan of Japan,'' was acquired by the New York Yankees last year after holding out when his rights were assigned to the San Diego Padres. He eventually signed a $12 million contract.

Other Japanese pitchers to find success in the United States are Hideo Nomo of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Shigetoshi Hasegawa of the Anaheim Angels.

Nomo's success encouraged scouting in Japan by American teams.

``I'm happy that a major league club acknowledges my ability and hope that I can become a top-flight player,'' Kyodo quoted Ushiromatsu as saying.

He said his biggest worry is speaking English.

Kyodo said Mets scout Isao Ojimi commented that the pitcher ``doesn't have the stamina yet, but he has only used about half his potential.

``I believe that he will be able to learn to throw a change-up and screwball,'' Ojimi added.

Kyodo said two other Japanese high school players _ outfielder Kenichiro Kawabata and pitcher Junichi Iwasaki _ are reportedly near a deal with the Boston Red Sox.