A Quick Look at Los Angeles Angels Pitcher/Outfielder Shohei Ohtani
Major League Baseball’s race for arguably the best player in Japan is finally over. Pitcher and outfielder Shohei Ohtani was signed to a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Angels just days ago, thus ending a scramble for the 23-year-old that started with each of the 30 clubs making a pitch to him and his reps. As it got closer to decision time, Ohtani knocked teams off his list (including this writer’s beloved White Sox) until only one remained – the Angels.
It’s not hard to see why a young, sought-after prospect would choose the sunny shores of Los Angeles. It also doesn’t hurt that the best player in Japan will be teaming up with the one of the best players in the United States – Mike Trout. Los Angeles snagged the future of its ball club this week, so let’s take a closer like at what the team is getting.
Name: Shohei Ohtani
Age: 23 (Born July 5, 1994)
Position: Pitcher/Designated Hitter/Outfielder
Previous Team: Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (NPB Pacific League)
Since making his professional baseball debut in 2013 as an 18-year-old, Ohtani has solidified himself as a multi-position player. What sets him apart from most is that one of those positions is pitcher. Not many players exhibit the talent it takes to stand on the mound and in the outfield, but Shohei has shown that he can do just that. In 2013, he became just the second rookie drafted out of high school to be used as a pitcher and position player in the same season (he was the first to make starts at both).
It’s not just his ability to help win games on the defensive end that made him a wanted commodity. What makes him exciting for the ever-evolving Major League Baseball game is his batting prowess. At the plate, Ohtani posted career numbers that included a .286 batting average, 48 home runs and 166 RBIs. Before you balk at those totals because they span four seasons, remember one important thing – he spent a lot of time on the mound.
While his offensive production wasn’t always consistent (he had just five home runs in 2015 and eight in 2017), Ohtani was one of the league’s best pitchers. His career stats include a 42-15 record, a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts. He’s absolutely a pitcher you don’t want to face in the late innings of a close game. He has a deadly fastball, which he used to record the fastest pitch in NPB league history, 165 kph (102.5 mph).
When Ohtani takes the mound in Los Angeles, you can expect a well-balanced arsenal of pitches, aside from his insane fastball that averages 96.2 mph. He also breaks out a tough-to-hit forkball that tops out around 88 mph as well as an 84-mph slider. He even peppers in the occasional curveball. Scouts have said there’s room for improvement when it comes to control but his raw talent has him poised for a lengthy MLB career. That is, if he can stay healthy.
At the time of this writing, the Angels organization has revealed that Shohei is dealing with a first-degree sprain of his right UCL. In other words, he has a damaged ligament in his throwing arm. While LA’s trainers and doctors will certainly do everything they can to treat the injury and manage the pain, this type of injury often results in the all-too-common Tommy John surgery. If it comes to this – and there’s no indication that it will as of now, just to be clear – he could miss an entire season.
Don’t let the injury stuff put a damper on the excitement surrounding this kid. If he lives up to his potential, he could end up being one of the few pitchers you’ll actually pay attention to when he steps up to the plate. In case we bummed you out with the injury talk, we’ll leave you with a list of his awards and accomplishments while playing pro ball in Japan.
NPB All-Star (2013-16)
Pacific League MVP (2016)
Pacific League ERA Leader (2015)
WBSC Player of the Year (2015)
Japan Series champion (2016)
Pacific League Pitcher “Best Nine” (2015, 2016)
Designated Hitter “Best Nine” (2016)
First Player to Receive “Best Nine” Awards as Both Pitcher and Hitter (2016)