If you're inclined to think Shohei Ohtani is going to transform an entire sport, plenty of baseball people are hoping that's exactly what happens. First, though, let's pause to appreciate that we are seeing something that hasn't been done in baseball in a century.Let's celebrate that we are seeing something
If you're inclined to think Shohei Ohtani is going to transform an entire sport, plenty of baseball people are hoping that's exactly what happens. First, though, let's pause to appreciate that we are seeing something that hasn't been done in baseball in a century.
Let's celebrate that we are seeing something we thought we would never see again. Ohtani's every appearance -- whether as a hitter or a pitcher -- generates a buzz that his teammates surely feel.
While we do not yet know if he's capable of transforming an entire sport, there's no doubt he's helping to transform the Angels. His teammates will feed off the energy and excitement of watching this quest, and in a long season, that kind of thing matters.
For the last few years, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been forced to piece together lineups and rotations with chewing gum and pape rclips. In doing so, he proved his greatness as a manager and leader again and again.
Now, he has a team that appears to be a legitimate postseason contender, with a nice offensive supporting cast around Michael Trout and a rotation that could potentially be October worthy. And there's this 23-year-old rookie with the majestic left-handed swing and 100-mph fastball who has captivated us by already doing more than virtually anyone believed possible.
In two starts on the mound, Ohtani is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 13 innings. His fastball has touched 100 mph, which is set up nicely with a split-finger pitch that runs wickedly into right-handed hitters. Ohtani has made four starts as a DH and has homered three times. He's hitting .389 overall, and his Statcast™ exit velocity tracking numbers reveal a guy with both quickness and strength.
Will he transform a sport as he's transforming the Angels? That's the thing that will take some time to sort out. Even as word of Ohtani's skills spread from Japan to the United States in recent years, few in this country truly bought into the idea of a bona fide two-way player.
Baseball people believed he could not both pitch and hit regularly in the big leagues, that he would have to pick one or the other and commit himself to that part of the game. They are rooting for him because if this great experiment works, it would create opportunity for other two-way players.
For years, we've watched young players in high school and college play a position one day and pitch the next and wondered, "Why wouldn't this work in the Major Leagues?" Until now, that answer was fairly basic. Baseball is so difficult to play at its highest level that an absolute commitment to one skillset or the other is required. As one general manager asked this spring, "Are there enough hours in the day to do both?" Even those who think we could see more two-way players envision the role as a sort of super utility player. That is, someone who can pitch to a couple of hitters and then go play the outfield.
At a time when benches are shorter and bullpens deeper than ever before, a player capable of both hitting and pitching would be extremely valuable. In recent seasons, several teams have thought more and more seriously about giving two-way players a shot. The Rays are a full-go with their 2017 first-round pick, Brendan McKay, doing both.
Meanwhile, the Reds are using 18-year-old Hunter Greene -- the second overall pick in 2017 -- strictly as a pitcher, even though he was a top prospect as a shortstop. The Reds believe using him strictly as a pitcher will increase the chances he maximizes his talent. The Rays took McKay two picks later and decided on a different approach.
But at least teams are talking about two-way players and understand the need for them regardless of their ultimate role. Despite that openmindedness, more than one baseball executive thinks Ohtani simply may be so unique and so gifted that he ultimately will stand alone.
All of which makes what we're seeing even more captivating. Here's a reminder to enjoy the ride whatever it ends up being. It doesn't get any better than this.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.