Shohei Ohtani: MLB’s Next Superstar

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If you don’t know who Shohei Ohtani is by now, I’m going to suggest you get out from the cave you’ve been living in.

Ohtani (often referred to as Otani, but his jersey spells it with an H) is currently Japan’s biggest star. A 23-year-old two way stud, he’s often referred to as Nippon Professional Baseball’s (NPB) best hitter and pitcher, and for good reason. At the young age of only 23, he’s already been a professional for 5 seasons. The last two seasons he’s really matured as a hitter, hitting .325/.411/.570/.981 with 30 home runs and 98 RBI’s. Over two full seasons those numbers aren’t incredible, especially with MLB’s new home run craze. However, he did this in only 169 games due to missing a lot of time with injury. Hitting this well coming off injury is incredible, so it’s safe to assume if he was healthy the entire time, he’d be hitting at the same level or even better.

Ohtani’s pitching is really where he shines. Over his career, Ohtani has a 2.56 ERA, 1.081 WHIP, 534 IP in 84 games pitched (81 starts). Ankle injuries limited Ohtani to only 16.1 IP in 2017 during which he gave up 9 earned runs which is very uncharacteristic for Ohtani. After a full offseason to let his ankle heal he should be back to normal.

The reason Ohtani is such a great pitcher is simple: his stuff. His fastball is the best the NPB has ever seen, clocking in regularly at 100 MPH (Ohtani holds the NPB record for fastest pitch ever at 102.5). The fastball is electric and comes flying out of his hand as shown in the GIF below (courtesy of MLB.com):         

As you can see it just flies and his above-average control allows him to place it exactly where the catcher sets up, making it virtually unhittable.

Not only is his fastball great, he also has great offspeed pitches, such as this changeup:

 

Looks like a fastball to the hitter so he pulls the string, then the ball just dives down, leaving the hitter look foolish.

His slider is also really nice:

Another pitch that comes out looking like a fastball that just dives so quickly the hitter can’t catch up.

Ohtani has said he wants to play both ways when he gets to the USA, however his best bet in the MLB is as a pitcher. Despite his smooth left-handed stroke, the lack of consistent at bats will be tough for him, so unless a team promises him regular at-bats as part of their recruiting pitch, a major league rotation seems to be his destiny.

Every team wants Ohtani. Because of his age, when Ohtani gets posted he’ll fall under MLB’s international age restrictions, which only allows a team to give him a bonus of the amount they have under their International Bonus Pools, and his contract will be as if he was a regular rookie, 3 years of pre-arbitration followed by 3 years of arbitration before becoming a Free Agent.

If Ohtani waited 2 seasons, he’d be eligible to sign for whatever amount he wanted. Ohtani isn’t waiting, which shows he doesn’t care about the money. This makes every team a possibility to land him.

While every team in theory COULD land him, that doesn’t mean every team has the same chance to get him. Ohtani has been reported to want a bigger market so he can be in the spotlight more, and he will want a place that has a high asian population. With those two things in mind, two teams come to mind: The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees are both perfect fits for Ohtani.

The two biggest markets in baseball, both teams would love to have Ohtani as an addition to their team. The Dodgers have repeatedly said they want to lower their payroll, and adding a stud like Ohtani would be huge. Plus, with the expected resigning of Darvish, Ohtani might like playing with someone from Japan. There are only two arguments against the Dodgers, the first is the lack of money they could offer Ohtani. The Dodgers can only offer Ohtani a 300,000 dollar signing bonus after exceeding their bonus pool limit last year. However, with Ohtani already leaving hundreds of millions on the table, this may not matter to him at all. The second argument is the lack of regular at-bats. Ohtani has said he wants to play two ways in the USA,  so many execs expect him to go to an AL team so he can DH. The Dodgers will probably be against letting Ohtani play the field in between his starts, which is justified, so that could deter Ohtani from joining the Dodgers.

The Yankees are the biggest market in baseball, and Cashman has flat out said the Yankees will get under the 189 million dollar mark after this season. After the remarkable season the Yankees had, adding a piece like Ohtani would make them even better for relatively no cost. Ohtani would add another arm to go with Severino, Gray and Tanaka (assuming he doesn’t opt out), and give the team a regular DH if they choose to go that route. I expect the Yankees to use the DH in 2018 as a rotation, instead of having a regular DH, which could allow the Yankees to give Ohtani a solid amount of AB’s. Ohtani is also a very good friend of Masahiro Tanaka’s as the two spend each offseason working out together. He’s also close with former Yankee slugger Hideki Matsui, who has reportedly spoken to Ohtani about what it’s like to play in New York. If Tanaka opts-in and the Yankees offer him regular at-bats at DH, plus the fact the Yankees can offer a nice amount of money, the Yankees seem like an option Ohtani is definitely going to explore.

No matter where Ohtani ends up, everyone can agree they’re excited for his arrival, a 23 year old with a 100 MPH fastball and a smooth left stroke leaves fans and execs of every team ready for him to compete at baseball’s highest level.

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