Any comparisons to Babe Ruth are subject to hyperbole, but the exploits of 23-year-old Shohei Ohtani give us reason to believe the Japanese — and soon-to-be Los Angeles Angels — star could be the next great two-way ball player.
The 2016 Most Valuable Player of the Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball was the first Japanese professional baseball player to hit 10 or more homers and win 10 or more games as a pitcher in the same season. The only player in major league history to score a double-double was Ruth, who stroked 11 home runs and won 13 games for the 1918 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.
Ohtani’s 2016 season was one of the best in Japanese history when he boasted a 10-4 record with a 1.86 ERA. The right-handed flamethrower posted a 0.95 WHIP while averaging 11.2 strikeouts and 2.9 walks per nine innings. Moonlighting as a left-handed-hitting DH, the 6-foot-4 Ohtani slugged 22 home runs while hitting .322 with a whopping 1.004 OPS in 104 games. With five professional seasons under his belt, Ohtani had a 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA in Japan. He hit .286 with 48 homers and 163 RBI in 403 games, not to mention a.859 OPS.
Japanese baseball isn’t quite the Major League Baseball, but it’s step ahead of AAA-ball. There is no question that Ohtani’s overall skills are off the charts. Major League Pacific Rim scouts have long marveled at Ohtani’s skills, referring to him as the “modern-day Babe Ruth”. A top-of-the rotation pitcher and a potentially middle-of-the-order slugger all in one, Ohtani throws a high-90s fastball that has reportedly topped out at 103 mph — the fastest ever thrown by a Japanese player. He uses a low-90s forkball to keep hitters off balance with a changeup still a work in progress and is viewed as a major-league-ready top of the rotation pitcher.
Ohtani still has some holes to fill in his swing, but has natural power and a keen eye at the plate. Showing off a powerful uppercut swing, the potential Angels clean up hitter has been compared to . Otani played 62 games as a corner outfielder his first two years as a professional. A sprained ankle early in the 2014 season quickly put an end to Otani’s outfield duties. With additional ankle woes that limited his time on the field last season last season, Ohtani was used exclusively as a DH when not pitching over the last three years.
Ohtani yearned to pitch and hit in the majors, to compete against the best in the world as a pitcher and a hitter since he was started
playing. The questions ahead for Ohtani, Mike Scioscia and the Angels brain trust are complicated: How will he deal with the pressures associated with becoming the “modern day Babe Ruth”? How will the Angels schedule his workload between and during pitching assignments? What happens when he hits a wall? It w
ill happen. Afterall, Ohtani is human … we think. When his pitching suffers due to the daily grind at the plate, do the Angels put his hitting duties on the back burner?
Scioscia, a former catcher, has proven adept at running a pitching staff and the Angels have never hesitated to thinkout of the box. Based on Ohtani’s past success, the Angels will likely simulate his Japanese work routine as much as possible. This means the Angels will implement a six-man rotation for an entire season. He will likely DH when he’s not pitching and sit the day before pitching. The chronic ankle injuries will keep Ohtani from playing first base or right field on a regular basis. Although Ohtani insists on being a two-way player, pitching will be the priority for the Angels. Ohtani has yet to reach his prime, which means great things are ahead. The question is: How long will his body allow him to be a two-way player? Ruth was only able to do it for four and one half years.
What the Angels and Ohtani are doing is ground breaking. Their success — or lack of success — will have significant implications on the future of baseball. The mystery surrounding Ohtani’s skills and how they are implemented by the Angels will be the biggest storyline of the 2018 season. You can count Ohtani baseball cards to be the most coveted cards from now through the 2018 season. Ohtani’s first baseball card was an insert in Japan’s Sports Card Magazine #97 released in January 2013. It was a promo card for the 2013 BBM Rookie Edition set and is selling for $30. His 2017 Bowman Chrome Refractor World Baseball Classic is selling for $160 and is on the rise. He and teammate Mike Trout will be among the most collectible players of the year.