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Angels officially welcome 2-way star Ohtani

Japanese rookie says he felt strong connection with club
MLB.com @mi_guardado

ANAHEIM -- Even as he emerged as the most sought-after free agent of this offseason and sparked a captivating courtship that lured most Major League clubs, there remained an air of mystery around Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani.

His unique skills as a two-way player were well-documented, but little else was known about the enigmatic 23-year-old, who left much of the baseball world guessing about his preferences and surprised many when his agency announced Friday that he had chosen to sign with the Angels over higher-profile teams such as the Dodgers or Yankees.

ANAHEIM -- Even as he emerged as the most sought-after free agent of this offseason and sparked a captivating courtship that lured most Major League clubs, there remained an air of mystery around Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani.

His unique skills as a two-way player were well-documented, but little else was known about the enigmatic 23-year-old, who left much of the baseball world guessing about his preferences and surprised many when his agency announced Friday that he had chosen to sign with the Angels over higher-profile teams such as the Dodgers or Yankees.

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:: Shohei Ohtani coverage ::

But on a warm Saturday afternoon, the mysterious veneer began to crack as Ohtani was officially introduced during a press conference at Angel Stadium that drew hundreds of fans who crowded in front of the ballpark to get their first look at the Angels' newest star.

"Hi, my name is Shohei Ohtani," he said in perfect English after receiving a red Angels jersey from owner Arte Moreno.

Ohtani made the rest of his comments via his interpreter, Matt Hidaka, though he continued to charm the crowd with ease, expressing his gratitude to Angels personnel, his family and CAA representatives and concluding his opening remarks by congratulating new teammate Mike Trout on his marriage.

When he was asked later why he chose to wear No. 17, Ohtani drew laughs by quipping, "I actually wanted No. 27, but somebody else was wearing that number." (Trout wears No. 27.)

Ohtani joked he wanted Trout's number

It's clear that Ohtani already has the aura of a star, which the Angels hope will carry over to the Majors.

"This is a historic day for our organization," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Every player, to a man, is so excited about this acquisition. I think that our job, and we have a lot of work ahead of us, is to see exactly how you get a multi-dimensional, two-way athlete like Shohei to bring his talent to the field often enough to where he leads us to that championship… His ability both on the field and in the batter's box is something that doesn't come along -- it really never comes along. So our excitement is very, very high."

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While Ohtani enticed teams around baseball with his dual profile as a right-handed pitcher and a left-handed slugger, he said he felt a special connection with the Angels, who made their pitch to him during a two-hour presentation at the CAA offices in Los Angeles on Monday night.

During the meeting, general manager Billy Eppler and the rest of the Angels' delegation laid out a detailed plan for how they intended to accommodate Ohtani's desire to be a two-way player in the Majors over a full season. Eppler said Scioscia made Ohtani laugh with his brand of self-deprecating humor, while Trout, who was on the East Coast preparing for his wedding, also joined the recruitment effort by calling in via FaceTime to tell Ohtani about the merits of the organization and the Angels' clubhouse.

Ohtani greeted with a red carpet

Video: Angels GM Eppler on why he pursued Ohtani for club

"It's hard to explain," said Ohtani, who received a $2.315 million signing bonus and is under team control for at least six years, like any other prospect. "With the Angels, I just felt something click. I'm just glad to make this choice."

Ohtani met with Eppler and his team again on Thursday night, when he received a tour of Angel Stadium and asked more questions, an experience Ohtani said helped affirm his desire to come to Anaheim.

"I just wanted to reconfirm what they had presented on Monday and reconfirm my feeling toward the Angels' brass," Ohtani said. "I wanted to get that feeling again and make sure that this was the right call."

Eppler said the Angels will now work with Ohtani and his former trainers in Japan to develop a more precise framework for their two-way plan.

Ohtani wants a nickname

"When we sat down with Shohei, we presented a plan," Eppler said. "I don't want to say that that plan gets ripped up, but I bet you that a large portion of that plan now gets modified because it was from a one-party perspective, and now we have two parties."

Eppler said he is open to adopting a six-man rotation, which would more closely mimic the structure Ohtani experienced in Japan, where pitchers start once a week. Shifting to a six-man rotation could not only help ease Ohtani's transition to the Majors, but it could also benefit the rest of the Angels' starters who have struggled with injuries the past couple of years, including Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker and Nick Tropeano.

Video: Callis discusses Ohtani's prospect attributes

Eppler also said Ohtani will not be used in the outfield, which he has not played since 2014 in Japan. The Angels expect to use Ohtani as a part-time designated hitter, an arrangement that would ostensibly require Albert Pujols to play more first base next season. Though Pujols played the field only six times in 2017, he is in the midst of his first surgery-free winter in two years, which the Angels believe will allow him to improve his conditioning for next season.

"Albert is full-blown into his winter workout," Scioscia said. "He definitely feels he's got the ability to go out there and play first base on a basis that will have Shohei get the at-bats that are warranted as soon as we decide on what the usage is going to be."

Still, there is no modern blueprint for what Ohtani will attempt to do next season. Only three players have started 15 games in the field and on the mound in a single season since 1900: Ray Caldwell (1918), Babe Ruth ('18 and '19) and Johnny Cooney ('24). And while Ohtani is often called the "Babe Ruth of Japan," he said he feels like he has a long way to go before he reaches that type of stratosphere.

"I'm honored to be compared to Babe Ruth, but in no way do I think I'm at his level," Ohtani said. "I think today actually is the real starting point for me, and I just want to get as close to him as possible."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.

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