Shohei Otani (大谷 翔平)
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 6' 3", Weight 198 lb.
- High School Hanamaki Higashi High School
Shohei Otani, also called Shohei Ohtani, was a first-round pick in Japan in 2012. He has set numerous records in Nippon Pro Baseball.
Otani was 0-1 in the 2012 World Junior Championship, with 16 strikeouts, 8 walks, 5 hits and five runs in 10 1/3 IP. In the 5th/6th place game, he fanned 12 and allowed just two hits in 7 innings but was outdueled by South Korea's Geon-wook Lee. He was timed at 99.4 mph in high school and was drawing interest from numerous MLB teams. He said he planned on going to the US instead of playing in Japan. One team still picked him in the 2012 NPB draft, that being the Nippon Ham Fighters. After much negotiation, he wound up signing with the Fighters after all instead of trying his hand in the US. This marked a somewhat similar course to a 2009 Hanamaki Higashi alumnus, Yusei Kikuchi, who also initially said he would go to the US instead of playing in Japan.
Otani was used as a rookie in both the outfield (leading the Fighters with 51 games in right) and at pitcher. The unusual two-way role was historic in lots of ways. He was the second Nippon Pro Baseball rookie drafted out of high school the prior year to be used as both a pitcher and position player, following Kikuo Tokunaga in 1951; Otani was the first to start in both roles. He was the first NPB pitcher since Takao Kajimoto in 1963 to bat 3rd, 4th or 5th and the first rookie hurler to do so since Junzo Sekine in 1950. He was the second player, following Osamu Takechi (also 1950), to start a game at pitcher, bat in the heart of the order (3rd through 5th) and get a hit and RBI in that game. He missed time during the year with a right ankle sprain and right cheekbone fracture. The fans voted the high-profile rookie into the All-Star Game despite mediocre numbers. For the season, he was 3-0 with a 4.23 ERA with 33 walks to 46 K in 61 2/3 IP and hit .238/.284/.376 in 204 plate appearances. He had 7 outfield assists to one error. His 8 hit batsmen tied Manabu Mima, Tadashi Settsu, Hideaki Wakui and Ryoma Nogami for 5th in the 2013 Pacific League. He did get 4 of the 233 votes for the 2013 Pacific League Rookie of the Year Award, tying Tatsuya Sato for a distant second behind Takahiro Norimoto.
He was better on both ends of the ball in 2014, hitting .274/.338/.505 with 10 HR in 212 AB and going 11-4 with a 2.61 ERA and 179 K in 155 1/3 IP. He tied Yuki Nishi and Kenichi Nakata for 4th in the PL in wins, was 3rd in ERA (behind Chihiro Kaneko and Takayuki Kishi) and third in strikeouts (after Norimoto and Kaneko). He started 2014 NPB All-Star Game 2 on the mound for the PL. He allowed a hit to Takashi Toritani, fanned Tetsuto Yamada, gave up hits to Wladimir Balentien and Matt Murton (an out on the play on Murton's hit, presumably Toritani at home) and then retiring Shinnosuke Abe on a grounder. Kaneko relieved in the 2nd but Otani got the win. He was the second-youngest starter to win a NPB All-Star Game, at age 20; Masaaki Ikenaga was 19 when he won in 1966. He was the 4th-youngest pitcher to win; the other two were relievers before Ikenaga in '66. He was timed at 162 km/hr (100.7 mph) to set a record for fastest pitcher at a NPB All-Star Game, topping Marc Kroon's mark (from 2008) by 1 kmph. He finished third in the 2014 Pacific League MVP voting, behind Kaneko and Yuki Yanagita. In the 2014 Nichi-Bei Series, he pitched a 1-2-3 8th inning in the opener, retiring Alcides Escobar, Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist in order; Yuji Nishino closed out the 2-0 win. He then started game 5 of the Series with NPB up 3 games to 1 against the MLB. He struggled, giving up 6 hits, 2 walks, a hit batsmen and two runs in four innings, though he did fan 7; he took the loss against Matt Shoemaker.
Otani started 2015 NPB All-Star Game 1 for the PL. He went two innings and fanned two, allowing one run (on a double by Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and a single by Jose Lopez), relieved by Nishi with a 1-0 deficit. The PL would lose 8-6 but he got a no-decision. He finished the season 15-5 with a 2.24 ERA, 196 strikeouts and only 100 hits in 160 2/3 IP. He led the PL in ERA (.14 over Nishi), tied Wakui for the most wins and was second in strikeouts (19 behind Norimoto, though he threw 34 fewer innings). He rarely played the field but did see some action at DH, hitting .202/.252/.376 with 5 HR in 109 AB. He made the Best Nine as the PL's top hurler. He finished third in MVP voting again, placing behind Yanagita and Shogo Akiyama for the 2015 Pacific League MVP.
Otani was dominant for the Japanese national team in the 2015 Premier 12. He hit 100 mph while blowing away eventual champion South Korea (10 K, 2 H, 2 BB, 0 R in 6 IP) before Norimoto relieved. Facing South Korea again in the semifinals, he was even sharper (11 K, 0 BB, 1 HB, 1 H in 7 IP). He did not give up a hit until Keun-woo Jeong singled in the 7th and had the most whiffs in a game for the first Premier 12 ever. Norimoto relieved with a 3-0 lead but he and two other relievers combined to allow four in the 9th to blow it as Japan fell in a shocking defeat. He led the event in ERA (Scott Diamond had 12 innings with a 0.00 ERA to Otani's 13) and strikeouts (one ahead of Chun-Lin Kuo) while allowing the lowest average by a starting pitcher. He was named the All-Star SP for the event (Sho Nakata was the only other member of Samurai Japan to be picked for the All-Star team).
He was stellar on both ends of the ball to open 2016 (.347/.455/.646, 11 HR in 144 AB; 8-4, 2.02, 140 K in 116 IP). He got nearly double as many votes as any other pitcher for the PL for the 2016 NPB All-Star Game; he had 300,025 while #2 Shota Takeda had 158,008. He could not pitch in the event due to a blister on his finger but wound up starring as a DH. In Game 1, he batted for DH Yuya Hasegawa and lined out in the 8th against Scott Mathieson. Starting at DH and hitting 5th in Game 2, he homered off Shoichi Ino in the 5th to start the PL comeback from a 3-0 deficit. He singled against Ryo Akiyoshi in the 7th and scored on a hit by Kenta Imamiya for a 4-3 lead. Coming up with a 5-4 deficit in the 8th, he singled off Shinji Tajima to bring in Shogo Akiyama with the tying run. He thus produced three of the PL's five runs in the 5-5 tie, earning him game MVP honors. He hit 165 km/h (102.5 mph) on the radar gun during the year, breaking Marc Kroon's NPB record of 163 kmph. He finished the year at .322/.416/.588 with 22 HR in 382 PA on offense and 10-4, 1.86 on the mound with 174 K in 140 IP. He tied for 8th in the PL in wins, was third in strikeouts (behind Norimoto and Kenda Segai) with a significantly better strikeout rate than either of those hurlers), would have led in ERA had he qualified (Ayumu Ishikawa led at 2.16; Otani was 3 IP shy of qualifying), would have been second in average if he had qualified (52 plate appearances shy; Katsuya Kakunaka led at .339), would have ranked 4th in OBP (between Akira Nakamura and Haruki Nishikawa), would have led in slugging (.065 ahead of Yanagita), would have led in OPS (35 ahead of Yanagita) and was 8th in home runs (every other player with 15+ had at least 50 more plate appearances). He led Nippon Ham to the 2016 Japan Series, but lost the opener to the Hiroshima Carp; he fanned 11 in 6 innings but allowed 3 runs, two on a homer by Brad Eldred and one on a steal of home by Seiya Suzuki. Down 2 games to 0, he came up big as the DH in game 3, getting 3 hits, a run and a RBI. In the bottom of the 10th, he singled off Daichi Oserato score Nishikawa with the winner; Nippon Ham would take the next three games to win their second Japan Series title. Teammate Brandon Laird would win the Series MVP. Otani had hit .375/.412/.625 with four doubles, doing more on offense than on the mound for the Series. He made the Best Nine as the top pitcher in the PL - and as the top DH. He topped 4-time Cuban MVP Alfredo Despaigne easily at DH (190 votes to 47; 3 others combined for 8 votes) but the vote at pitcher was closer (he had 111 of 245 votes, Ishikawa 69 and Tsuyoshi Wada 61). He was the run-away winner of the 2016 Pacific League Most Valuable Player Award, getting 253 of 254 first-place votes (Naoki Miyanishi got the other one) and one second-place vote. He had 1,268 vote points, to 298 for runner-up Laird.
- Barry M. Bloom: "Ohtani will be next rising star from Japan: Two-way player for Nippon Ham features 100-mph heater", mlb.com, February 10, 2016. 
- William Boor: "Ohtani reportedly may come to US after 2017 season", 'mlb.com, December 5, 2016. 
- Ben Cosman: "Shohei Ohtani was named the best pitcher *and* the best DH in NPB's Pacific League", "Cut 4", mlb.com, November 25, 2016.