Now that Japanese star Shohei Ohtani has chosen to bring his unique two-way talent to Anaheim, one significant question remains: How will the Angels use the right-handed pitcher/left-handed slugger?Only four times has a player started 15 games in the field and on the mound in a single season since 1900:
Now that Japanese star Shohei Ohtani has chosen to bring his unique two-way talent to Anaheim, one significant question remains: How will the Angels use the right-handed pitcher/left-handed slugger?
Only four times has a player started 15 games in the field and on the mound in a single season since 1900: Ray Caldwell (1918), Babe Ruth ('18, '19) and Johnny Cooney ('24). Ohtani will aim to become the fifth with the Angels, who are willing to allow the 23-year-old to pursue his goal of becoming a two-way threat in the Majors.
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Here's how Ohtani might fit in with his new organization:
1. Six-man rotation?
For all his prodigious power, Ohtani's biggest impact for the Angels likely will come in the starting rotation, where he will give the club another top-of-the-rotation arm to pair with fellow right-hander Garrett Richards. Blessed with a fastball that touches 100 mph, Ohtani logged a 1.86 ERA with 174 strikeouts in 140 innings for the Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2016, his last full season in Nippon Professional Baseball. One way the Angels could potentially ease Ohtani's transition to the Majors would be to adopt a six-man rotation, which would be more in line with his routine in Japan, where starters pitch every seven days.
Going to a six-man rotation could be beneficial not only for Ohtani -- who missed most of this past season due to an ankle injury -- but also for the rest of the Angels' starters, most of whom have struggled to stay healthy the past couple of seasons.
2. DH reps
Ohtani is also expected to see time in the Angels' lineup as a part-time designated hitter, giving the club a much-needed left-handed bat to complement right-handed-hitters Michael Trout, Justin Upton and Jose Pujols. It's unclear how often Ohtani will hit in the Majors, though he typically batted three games a week as a DH in Japan. In 2016, Ohtani hit 22 home runs while batting .322/.416/.588 in 382 plate appearances with Nippon-Ham.
"In the batter's box, he does everything that we value," said Angels GM Billy Eppler on the Angels' flagship radio station KLAA AM830. "He makes good decisions, he's got a high degree of plate discipline, and he's got the ability to impact the baseball.
"A pretty special player both in the batters box and on the mound."
3. Impact on Pujols
Pujols served as the Angels' primary designated hitter in 2017, so any plans to incorporate Ohtani into the DH rotation will require Pujols to play the field or sit out games. Still, the Angels are hopeful Pujols will be able to play more first base next season with the help of a full winter of conditioning. Pujols has undergone foot surgeries the past two years, which prevented him from arriving to Spring Training in optimal shape, but he has already begun a fitness program that the Angels believe could help revitalize the 37-year-old slugger and clear the way for Ohtani to regularly assume the DH spot.
"I think Albert is embracing an entire winter when he can get into a more accustomed offseason routine for him," said Eppler. "I do know Albert likes playing first base. He probably would have played more first base in the last two years, but he didn't really have an opportunity to work out at his accustomed level in the previous two seasons. So he was always showing up to Spring Training with the mindset of getting in better shape.
"I think this winter, we'll just keep an open mind when he shows up to Spring Training and see how much he can handle over there."
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.