Prospect: Shohei Ohtani
Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher and Designated Hitter
Level: Los Angeles Angels
Age: Entering Age 23 season in 2018.
Height: 6’4” – Weight: 203 lbs
Floor: #2 starting pitcher in the major leagues, but not a hitter.
Ceiling: The best pitcher and also one of the best hitters in major league baseball.
Likely Outcome: Ace starting pitcher and a good hitter in the major leagues.
Summary: This is the scouting report I’ve been looking forward to writing since the day we placed Shohei Ohtani atop our top prospect list. I remember hearing about this kid when he was in high school. It seems like so long ago, that he was some really talented prep kid from Japan that wanted to play here just like any high profile prep prospect from the states. Then it didn’t happen. And then two years later his name resurfaced, and he was trying to hit and pitch in Japan, and they were calling him the Japanese Babe Ruth. The numbers weren’t too impressive so I didn’t pay much attention until he played for Samurai Japan in the MLB Stars tour. At age 20, he completely laid waste to our MLB stars. He made them look overpowered and foolish. From that point on, Shohei Ohtani stuck in my mind. I knew exactly who he was. And the stories just got bigger and bigger. During the World Baseball Classic he hit a ball through the roof of the Tokyo Dome. That’s impossible. And he was routinely clocked at 99-100 mph on the mound.
There was some speculation that perhaps Ohtani would jump to the U.S. last year at age 22, but because of an injured ankle, not only did he not play for Japan in the World Baseball Classic, but he also didn’t come stateside. Whatever, he’d probably end up with the Yankees anyway. Right?
I paid casual attention this last year, about the “will he-won’t he” about coming to play ball in America. And then this offseason when he was declared a free agent, I legitimately began to wonder, “Can he do it? Can he hit and pitch here?” Never did it cross my mind that this fantasy would actually be a reality, and it would hit closer to home that I had ever dreamt. Ohtani narrowed his list down to seven teams, mostly along the West coast, and the Angels were one of seven. That was really exciting, and entertaining, particularly the Yankees fans response on MLBTR.
I think that’s when I really began to understand just how big of a deal Shohei Ohtani is. Yankee fans, who can already be unbearable to begin with, showed up en masse to voice their displeasure. That he was wasting everyone’s time and that this was so stupid and that he probably wasn’t even that good anyway.
And then I had to hear what I absolutely had grown to dread. That Shohei Ohtani would probably pick the Mariners. I don’t like the Mariners. Not since the Angels playoff collapse of my early childhood years of the 1990’s that was capped by an utterly dominant performance by Randy Johnson and that mustache and mullet of his. I mean Ken Griffey Jr. was really cool, but no, I don’t like the Mariners. And possibly my least favorite person associated with professional baseball, Jerry Dipoto was their GM.
That’s when it became personal.
Every pundit predicted the Mariners. They’re the safe bet. They have such a strong Japanese audience and they are Japanese owned and have a history with Japanese players and so on and so forth. It was enough to make me forget that other than simply being Japanese, Shohei Ohtani was a human that was trying to do something that hadn’t been done in a century. Then there was Dipoto doing what Dipoto does, which is talk to the media several times a day and making a big show of his pursuit of Ohtani and make statements about how confident his staff was in their pursuit of Ohtani.
But Billy Eppler….that’s an easy guy to like. He also made no secret that he intended to pursue Shohei Ohtani. He wasn’t as in your face about it and all over the radio and TV, but he made the simple statement that the Angels would in fact be pursuing Ohtani. Clear, crisp and to the point. Then came the trades. That’s when this wasn’t just personal anymore.
This was a battle royale.
Mariners vs. Angels, winner take the greatest and most fabled player to ever play in Japan (except for maybe Ichiro).
The Mariners’ international budget was huge. They’d made sure of it. They had more to offer any team in baseball. Dwarfing everyone else in fact. But Billy fired the first shot, trading for Jim Johnson and a whole bunch of international money. Jerry Dipoto fired back, trading one of his top prospects for even more international money, because that’s what Dipoto does, he trades prospects away. Then Billy fired again, trading Jacob Pearson, undoubtedly a good prospect, though not a top prospect, in return for more international money from Minnesota. Then Dipoto fired back again, trading yet another top prospect for more money, because….Dipoto. Then Billy Eppler fired back again, but in a very confusing way, signing Kevin Maitan and Livan Soto, two of the biggest international free agents for three million dollars.
Did that mean we were out on Ohtani?
As it turns out, because of the special circumstances, MLB had allowed teams to dip into next season’s international budget to sign the former Braves prospects. So the Angels were still in on Shohei Ohtani.
Wouldn’t that be weird if the Angels got Kevin Maitan and Shohei Ohtani? Man, the top prospect list would be insane!
And then came the news.
Shohei Ohtani had chosen the Angels. Billy Eppler had defeated Jerry Dipoto by way of knockout in the third round. The Angels had defeated the Mariners, and the Yankees, and the Rangers, and the Dodgers, and everyone else. I announced it to my classroom, to the sound of “Oh my God” and groans from the Giants fans that surrounded me.
And that’s when Ohtani became OUR story. The new chapter in the story of the Angels franchise. The last chapter was all about how great Mike Trout is, and how the Angels hadn’t won with him. The new chapter would be about how the Angels have the greatest player in major league baseball, and the greatest international star in major league baseball, the only two-way player in major league baseball, playing side by side, and ushering in a new era of prosperity for the Angels.
So at this point, you’re probably thinking, this isn’t a scouting report, this is a story. Well that’s true, but the reason for that is to simply show you the reader that reading about Shohei Ohtani’s scouting report is a lot like reading a story. It’s like listening to your great grand-pappy talk about watching Willie Mays play. He was larger than life. So was the Mick. So is Mike Trout. And so is Shohei to the Japanese people. Hopefully to the Americans soon too.
Well if you want Shohei’s scouting report, then here it is.
First, he throws the ball hard. Really hard. He’ll probably be the hardest throwing starting pitcher in major league baseball. Like Justin Verlander when he first came up. That hard. And his mechanics are cleaner than clean. He’ll throw two variations of a breaking ball, a curve and the slider. I don’t like the slider as much as everyone else does, but I like Ohtani’s curve more than everyone else does. But then that’s me, always going against the grain. Really, my favorite pitch of Ohtani’s (fun fact, my computer auto-corrects Ohtani’s to Octane’s) is his splitter. It’s the best splitter I’ve every seen. Better than Shoemaker’s. Better than Haren’s sort of splitter. Better than Darvish’s. As good if not better than Nomo’s forkball. I grade it as a 70 grade pitch, because 70 is the highest I can go before I start saying lofty things. “Octane’s” fastball is one of those lofty things. Mike Trout himself is in fact a very lofty thing.
Back to Ohtani.
Apparently, he can also hit the ball 500 feet. Watching his swing, his follow through, his loft, I believe it. I believe Shohei Ohtani can hit the ball 500 feet in practice. I believe he can hit the ball over 450 feet in games. There’s a difference between batting practice power and game power, just look at C.J. Cron. This isn’t to say Ohtani doesn’t have in-game power. He definitely does. I just don’t think he has Giancarlo Stanton in game power, where the majority of his home runs seem to travel 450 feet. This is a moot point really because the only difference between Mike Trout’s 430 foot home runs and Stanton’s 450 footers is that…..well there’s no difference. Trout usually did it with no men on and so did Stanton.
Back to Ohtani….again.
Yes, he hits for power. And the last couple years in Japan, he hit for average too. Fun fact, I was stationed in Japan for a year back in my Marine days (semper fi) and I’d loved baseball my whole life. But that was the first time I’d ever had the chance to watch Japanese baseball. It was a whole different ball game. The fans were absolutely rabid. Not hateful, but so passionate. Filled with joy. The dirt infields, the smaller fields, the turf, the domes, the identical hitting and pitching styles, the manufacturing of runs, the in-game decisions, the defense….it was baseball in a pure form. And I’ll say this, a vast majority of Japanese pitchers would be successful in America in the major leagues. The hitters, not so much. But the pitchers, absolutely.
Back to Ohtani…..again and again.
Ohtani showed a greater propensity to swing and miss the last couple seasons in Japan, but the difference in the results came in what happened when Ohtani made contact with the ball. He made the adjustments, and was able to square up pitches in a way he couldn’t before. It’s this ability to adjust that will ultimately lead to success in the major leagues as a hitter. It’s what Mike Trout is better at than anyone, maybe ever. Adjusting. Every plate appearance, every pitch.
Oh and then to top it all off, as if Shohei wasn’t already a kid of mythic proportions, he’s also really fast. Cool. Also, he’s extremely humble and likable and focused and works very hard. You know, like Trout. And as both his manager and Ohtani himself said…..he’s driven to be the best baseball player in the world. No better way to do that than to watch the best player in the world from the dugout and pitcher’s mound.
There’s the summary of his scouting report.
What to expect: The Angels and Ohtani have both been clear that the need for flexibility will be paramount in how exactly he is deployed. The general plan for now will likely mirror what Shohei did in Japan. That would be to pitch once every six days (the Angels plan to deploy a six man rotation). So if he pitches on Monday, he won’t bat on Monday or Tuesday. He’ll DH on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and perhaps Saturday if there’s an off day on Sunday, otherwise he’ll rest on Saturday and pitch on Sunday. So generally speaking, Ohtani should log roughly a half season worth of at bats and 150 or so innings on the mound, assuming he stays healthy.
That’s one of the paramount debates about Ohtani, if his body can withstand doing that.
We can also expect the Angels to be in the news every night, which will be a pretty big change. Everyone and their mother will want to know how Shohei Ohtani is doing. After all, he’s trying to do something that hasn’t been done in 100 years. A lot of smart people think it can’t be done. A lot of other smart people think it can be done. And still, more smart people are googling “What is a Shohei Ohtani?”
We can expect Angel Stadium to be overrun by the Japanese media. We can probably expect Arte Moreno to do something drastic mid-season to try and accommodate the amount of media attention this will bring, not only from Japan, but from America too. We can expect a greater Asian presence among fans, and a thousand different narratives but ultimately the one that I care about, “Can Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout bring home a World Series title?” Oh and also “Did you see Trout and Ohtani laughing and joking? That’s so awesome! World peace!”
We can also expect a fair amount of skepticism, especially when Shohei Ohtani slumps. AngelsWin may not be a pleasant place when that happens.
But as for my own personal expectations, I think Shohei Ohtani will be absolutely brilliant on the mound and surprisingly pretty good at the plate too, as a 23 year old. By the time he’s 26, this could really be fun.
Estimated Time of Arrival: Right now folks. Right freakin’ now. Man I’m excited!
Grade as a prospect: A+.
Grades Explained: Grade A player is a future superstar. Grade B player is a future regular. Grade C is a fringe major leaguer.