Limited to DH, Ohtani's at-bats still must-watch

Two-way star looks to improve upon excellent rookie numbers at plate

February 9th, 2019

ANAHEIM -- It was a memorable first season for , who proved he's capable of being both a frontline starting pitcher and an elite power hitter en route to winning American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2018.

But Ohtani, who joined Babe Ruth as the only players to hit 20 homers and make 10 pitching appearances in the same season, will be limited to only designated hitter duty in '19 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on Oct. 1. Ohtani, though, remains a must-watch player for Angels fans and his recovery from the operation will be worth monitoring throughout the season as he prepares to pitch again in '20.

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Ohtani will not be ready for Opening Day, but isn't expected to miss much time early in the season and once he returns, he'll bring much-needed power from the left side. But it'll be a juggling act for Ohtani and the Angels, as they don't want him to experience any setbacks with his elbow, so his rehab schedule will be custom-tailored given that he's a two-way player.

"The uniqueness of Shohei also coming back as a pitcher is that you'll have to incorporate the throwing progressions, like throwing from farther distances," Eppler said. "One of the things that we were mindful of is not introducing him to two new things in the same week."

The 24-year-old hit .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers, 21 doubles and 61 RBIs in 104 games as a position player in 2018, while also posting a 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts, 22 walks and six homers allowed in 51 2/3 innings as a starting pitcher.

He's also an above-average runner on the bases, as he ranked as the fastest designated hitter in baseball by a wide margin last year. His average sprint speed was 28.4 feet per second, which puts him in the 81st percentile among Major Leaguers, per Statcast™. It also ranked as the fourth-fastest on the team behind , and the departed

But it's Ohtani's hitting that will really make an impact in '19, and the advanced metrics provided by Statcast™ clearly illustrate that. Ohtani was among the game's best in terms of making hard contact, as he ranked 11th among all hitters in average exit velocity at 92.6 mph.

Of his 225 batted balls in play tracked by Statcast™, 113 of them were hit harder than 95 mph, which gave him a hard-hit rate of 50.2 percent that ranked 10th in the Majors and has him the same company as perennial MVP candidates , and .

Even without pitching this year, he has the ability to be a game-changer at the plate and on the bases, and combines with Trout to give the Angels one of the game's most exciting 1-2 punches.

Ohtani will be the primary designated hitter once he returns, while Angels manager Brad Ausmus will be tasked with finding the right mix of playing time for first basemen and .

But Ausmus, who served as a special assistant with the Angels last year, knows what Ohtani is capable of and is excited to have him the lineup once he's healthy.

"He's just a tremendous talent," Ausmus said. "I remember watching him take batting practice the first day in Tempe when I was there. And immediately in batting practice, the one thing that stood out is how the ball came off his bat. The only way I can describe it is it's very similar to . You just don't see guys like that."