At the moment Shohei Ohtani officially signs his contract with the Angels, he will become the best prospect in baseball.At MLBPipeline.com, we consider any rookie-eligible player a prospect unless he isn't subject to MLB's international bonus pools. Under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, anyone 23 or older was exempt from
At the moment Shohei Ohtani officially signs his contract with the Angels, he will become the best prospect in baseball.
At MLBPipeline.com, we consider any rookie-eligible player a prospect unless he isn't subject to MLB's international bonus pools. Under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, anyone 23 or older was exempt from the signing restrictions, but that age threshold increased to 25 in the current CBA agreed upon last November. Ohtani turned 23 in July.
:: Shohei Ohtani coverage ::
If the old rules were still in place, Ohtani likely would have commanded a big league contract in the neighborhood of $200 million and wouldn't have qualified for MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list. Instead, he accepted a much smaller bonus and immediately claimed the No. 1 spot.
Quite simply, baseball hasn't seen a prospect like Ohtani in decades and hasn't given anyone the chance to star as a pitcher and hitter that he'll get from Los Angeles. Brooks Kieschnick and Christian Bethancourt pulled double duty in recent years, but they were relievers/pinch-hitters. Ohtani has the tools to become a frontline starter and a middle-of-the-order hitter, and he wants to do both.
Ohtani excelled in both roles in Japan, earning comparisons to Babe Ruth. In five seasons with the Nippon-Ham Fighters, he went 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings and batted .286/.358/.500 with 48 homers in 403 games. He was hindered in 2017 by a right ankle injury that necessitated surgery in October, but in his last healthy season he was the Pacific League's 2016 MVP after going 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 140 innings while hitting .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers in 104 games.
Ohtani's tools are just as exciting as those numbers. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder pitches with a top-of-the-scale fastball that sits in the upper 90s, has hit 102.5 mph (a Japanese record) and features late movement. He backs up his heater with a pair of well-above-average pitches in a diving splitter that tops out in the low 90s and a hard slider that reaches the upper 80s.
If that's not enough, Ohtani also can mix in a curveball and a changeup that are at least average offerings. His reports as a pitcher are similar to those on Yu Darvish when Darvish signed with the Rangers in 2012, with Ohtani's pure stuff slightly better but Darvish possessing more polish.
While most teams think Ohtani offers the most upside on the mound, there are some clubs that believe he could be at least as good as a position player. Like his fastball, his raw power and arm grade as 80s on the 20-80 scouting scale, and his speed also is well-above-average.
A left-handed hitter, Ohtani projects to bat .270 with 30 homers if he were an everyday player, though his quickness has yet to translate into stolen bases. He has the ability to become at least an average defender in right field, where he profiles best, though he'll likely get most of his at-bats at DH to save his arm for pitching.
Ohtani's tools compare favorably to those of the best two-way prospect since baseball's Draft era began in 1965: Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. The Padres drafted him No. 4 overall in 1973 as an outfielder, signed him to a big league contract with a $65,000 bonus and brought him straight to San Diego. He made 12 All-Star Game appearances on his way to Cooperstown, but there were many teams who though he showed more promise as a pitcher.
Winfield didn't even hit in his first three college seasons at Minnesota because legendary Golden Gophers coach Dick Siebert didn't want to risk injury to his valuable right arm. Radar guns weren't prevalent then, but those who saw Winfield pitch estimate that he worked in the mid-90s and threw as hard as any Draft prospect in the early 1970s. The last two games he pitched came at the 1973 College World Series, where he threw a 14-strikeout shutout in the opener against Oklahoma and whiffed 15 in the semifinals against Southern California.
The only other player who was a consensus top 10 pick as both a hitter and pitcher was first baseman/left-hander Brendan McKay, whom the Rays selected No. 4 overall in June. Tampa Bay preferred him as a hitter but is going to develop him as a two-way player, while the three teams earlier in the Draft order -- the Twins, Reds and Padres -- all strongly considered McKay and liked him more as a pitcher. He doesn't really compare to Ohtani because he's more polished than overpowering on the mound, more hitter than slugger and not as athletic.
At No. 2, Cincinnati took another two-way talent in Hunter Greene, who like Ohtani has reached 102 mph with his fastball and has impressive power potential. Though the Reds gave him 30 at-bats during his brief pro debut, he'll be strictly a pitcher going forward and has a higher ceiling on the mound.
Because Ohtani's skillset is so unusual, we've decided to handle him unlike any other prospect since we started ranking them at MLB.com. He's the first player we've ever put on two separate position lists, ranking as our No. 1 right-handed pitcher and our No. 4 outfielder. Now the next step is to see how he lives up to expectations on a big league diamond.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.