Shohei Ohtani

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Shohei Ohtani (大谷 翔平)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Shohei Ohtani, also called Shohei Otani, was a first-round pick in Japan in 2012. He set numerous records in Nippon Pro Baseball before moving to Major League Baseball in 2018.

Ohtani 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.

Ohtani 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; Ohtani 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 Ohtani 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.

Ohtani 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.

Ohtani 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 Ohtani'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; Ohtani 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. Ohtani 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.

In 2017, he played in 65 games, hitting .332 with 8 homers and 31 RBIs while going 3-2, 3.20 with 29 strikeouts in the mound. In September, it was revealed that Ohtani would ask to be posted at the end of the season in order to play in Major League Baseball in 2018. However, before that could happen, he had surgery on his right ankle in early October. The injury had originally occurred in the 2016 Japan Series, and had cost him a chance to play in the 2017 World Baseball Classic in addition to restricting his playing time during the season. There was some question as to whether he would be able to be posted, as it took some time for MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball to renew their agreement on the operation of the posting system in the fall of 2017. The two sides eventually came to an agreement on November 21st; had they been unable to do so by December 1st, it would have meant that the system would be suspended for at least a year. Given his young age, he was subject to the bonus rules attached to international signings, severely limiting the amount of money he could command off the bat; he was also limited to signing a minor league contract for the time being. It also meant that a number of teams which had already spent most of their bonus pool were in fact excluded from bidding for him. As the amount of money needed to sign him was very small, meaning no team could claim he was out of its price range, he tried to narrow the number of potential bidders and avoid landing somewhere that was of little interest to him by explaining he was only interested in signing with a team based on the West Coast. That effectively eliminated two of the most interested teams, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. As expected, he was officially posted on December 1st. On December 8th, after listening to a two-hour presentation by each of the seven teams still in the bidding, he settled on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He was to be paid a bonus of $2.32 million, in addition to the major league minimum salary. The Angels confirmed that they were open to his playing DH on days he does not pitch. It was revealed a few days later that the results of a physical exam that had been circulated to all interested teams before he was signed had revealed some ligament damage in his elbow and that he was undergoing plasma-rich platelet treatment as a result. Angels GM Billy Eppler minimized the impact of the news, saying that his results were "consistent with players his age" and would not prevent him from pitching in 2018. He received a further honor before spring training started, as he was named the top prospect in baseball by mlb.com.

Shohei Ōtani with the Angels

His first major league baseball spring training did not go so great for Shohei as under the glare of constant media attention, he struggled at the plate, going 2 for 24 in his first three weeks. He wasn't much better on the mound, giving up 9 runs in 2 2/3 innings. Were he not such a high profile player, he would likely have been sent down to the minor league camp at that point in order to allow him to find his bearings in a lower-pressure environment, but the Angels really wanted to break camp with the youngster on their roster. He made his big league debut as designated hitter on Opening Day, going 1-for-5 against the Oakland Athletics, his hit coming on the first pitch he saw. While a number of players made their debut that day, Shohei was the only one to do so as part of his team's starting line-up and can thus be considered the first player to have made his debut in 2018. He then made his pitching debut on April 1st against those same Athletics, and in 6 innings of work gave up a three-run homer to Matt Chapman but little else, walking one and striking out six. He left with a 7-3 lead and was credited with the Angels' 7-4 win. Then, in his first home game on April 3rd, he hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat off Josh Tomlin of the Cleveland Indians; he could have had a grand slam as he had come up with the bases loaded, but Tomlin threw a wild pitch before surrendering the homer, resulting in one of the runners scoring. Ohtani added two more hits before the end of the game, making a key contribution to his team's 13-2 win. He followed with another homer the next day, this one off Corey Kluber, a two-run shot that tied the game. He made it three games in a row with a long ball on April 6th when he connected off Daniel Gossett of the A's. He also picked up another RBI on a walk with the bases loaded in a 13-9 win. He then topped this with a brilliant pitching performance on April 8th, retiring the first 19 A's batters he faced before allowing a one-out single to Marcus Semien in the 7th. He allowed just that one hit and one walk in seven innings, while striking ou 12 and was given credit for a 6-1 win. On April 12th, he hit a three-run triple which was the key blow in a 7-1 win over the Kansas City Royals. His next start as a pitcher was delayed by two days by foul weather in Kansas City and when he took the mound at home against the Boston Red Sox on April 17th, he looked like a mere mortal for the first time, leaving after just 2 innings because of a blister, after allowing a lead-off homer to Mookie Betts (who would hit three on the night). He allowed 3 runs and was charged with his team's 10-1 loss. On April 27th, he homered in the 2nd inning off Luis Severino of the New York Yankees, but then sprained his ankle while trying to run out a ground ball in the 5th. As a result, he skipped his next scheduled turn as a pitcher. He was named the American League Rookie of the Month for April in recognition of his historic contribution on both sides of the ball. He returned to the mound on May 6th with another strong performance, this one against the Seattle Mariners. He pitched six scoreless innings before tiring and giving up a couple of runs in the 7th; by then the Angels had built a commanding lead and he received credit for an 8-2 win to improve to 3-1. On June 6th, he once again had to leave a start early because of a blister problem, this one coming in the 4th inning against the Royals. On June 8th, he was placed on the disabled list with an elbow sprain. The plan was to try three weeks of therapy, including with platelet-rich plasma, but if that did not work, Tommy John surgery was a possibility, which would put him on the sidelines for a full year or more. He was reactivated on July 3rd and he was immediately inserted in the line-up at DH, but it was still unclear if he would return to the mound that season. On July 8th, he hit a dramatic pinch homer off J.T. Chargois of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 7th inning of a nationally televized Sunday night game to break a 3-3 tie and send the Angels on their way to a 4-3 win. he was not in the starting line-up after having fouled a ball off his knee the previous days and was still feeling sore: "It was going to be hard for me to run all out, so I was glad I was able to hit the home run and not have to run too hard," he said through a translator.

Sources[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • Lindsay Berra: "Will 2-way star Ohtani have greater injury risk? Playing two positions would come with additional wear and tear", mlb.com, December 7, 2017. [1]
  • 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. [2]
  • William Boor: "Ohtani reportedly may come to US after 2017 season", mlb.com, December 5, 2016. [3]
  • Michael Clair: "Dream teen: Ohtani's 17-K Jr. High game", "Cut4", mlb.com, November 26, 2017. [4]
  • 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. [5]
  • Simon Drouin: "Shohei Ohtani: le Babe Ruth japonais", La Presse, April 16, 2018. [6]
  • Maria Guardado: "First Ohtani show features homer, no pressure: Two-way Angels star keeping things loose under spotlight in introductory spring workout", mlb.com, February 14, 2018. [7]
  • Gabe Lacques: "Reminder: Shohei Ohtani may end up the greatest bargain in MLB history", USA Today Sports, April 4, 2018. [8]
  • Oliver Macklin: "Pitch or hit? Ohtani open to both -- or either: Japanese two-way superstar: 'It's not just about what I want to do'", mlb.com, November 11, 2017. [9]
  • Jonathan Mayo: "No two ways about it: Ohtani one of a kind: Scouts rave about Japanese star's never-before-seen skill set", mlb.com, September 18, 2017. [10]
  • Jonathan Mayo: "Sho and tell: FAQ about Ohtani, posting system", mlb.com, November 22, 2017. [11]
  • Jon Paul Morosi: "Pitcher? Hitter? Both! And soon, Ohtani in play: Parties agree to new rules regarding NPB player transfers", mlb.com, November 21, 2017. [12]
  • Bob Nightengale: "MLB's posting system could delay Shohei Ohtani's dream", USA Today Sports, November 16, 2017. [13]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Angels pull off stunner, win Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes", mlb.com, December 8, 2017. [14]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Shohei Ohtani, Angels undaunted by rocky spring: 'He's going to wow us,' says Mike Trout", USA Today Sports, March 21, 2018. [15]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Shohei Ohtani’s elbow injury not only a blow to the Angels, but all of baseball", USA Today Sports, June 8, 2018. [16]
  • Jeff Passan: "Shohei Ohtani agrees to sign with Angels", Yahoo! Sports, December 8, 2017. [17]
  • Chad Thornburg: "Two-way star Ohtani reportedly to be posted", mlb.com, September 13, 2017. [18]

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