Angels pitchers and catchers officially reported to the club’s Spring Training complex in Tempe, Ariz., on Tuesday, but two-way star Shohei Ohtani’s status was the biggest topic during manager Joe Maddon’s 45-minute Zoom session with reporters.
Ohtani, who signed a two-year deal worth $8.5 million to avoid arbitration on Feb. 8, went through a normal offseason and is fully healthy after suffering an elbow/forearm strain last season that limited him to only two starts on the mound. The Angels will again attempt to utilize Ohtani as a two-way player, although the club has yet to reveal its official plan for how often he’ll pitch and serve as designated hitter.
"Right now, I'm hearing full-go," Maddon said. "The reports I've been getting are really good, honestly really good. So I'm eager to watch this just like everybody else. If we get Shohei in the right direction, that would be a pretty good offseason acquisition right there. We've seen what he's capable of doing."
Ohtani, 26, has had one successful season as a two-way player, coming during his first season in 2018, when he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. He hit .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers, 21 doubles and 61 RBIs in 104 games as a DH, while going 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings over 10 starts. He became the first player since Babe Ruth to make at least 10 starts as a pitcher and hit 20 homers in a season.
But Ohtani has dealt with injuries since then, including Tommy John surgery that kept him from pitching in 2019. He batted .286/.343/.505 with 18 homers, 20 doubles and 62 RBIs in 106 games that year, but he struggled in the second half and ultimately underwent left knee surgery in September of that season.
Last offseason, Ohtani was still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and also had to rehab his left knee. With the start of the season pushed back to late July because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohtani never got on track on either the mound or at the plate. He batted .190/.291/.366 with seven homers, six doubles and 24 RBIs in 44 games as a DH and allowed seven runs over 1 2/3 innings in his two starts before suffering his elbow/forearm injury.
Ohtani has mostly been on a plan where he pitches once a week and serves as DH roughly three to four times a week. But Maddon said they don’t want to limit him to just that going forward.
"I'm staying away from that," Maddon said. "He needs to prepare himself as a pitcher first, I think, because that's harder to do. And then as a hitter second. So as we schedule him, we're going to schedule his pitching and then work his offense into it, because I think that's the best way to do it."
Ohtani is set to join a rotation that also includes Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney, Griffin Canning, Alex Cobb and José Quintana. Maddon said there’s also a chance the club could add more pitching before the start of the season despite Spring Training workouts between pitchers and catchers beginning on Wednesday.
Maddon said the key is keeping Ohtani healthy and in a positive state mentally, as he believes the sky is the limit for him.
"He could be one of the best players of his generation if given the opportunity," Maddon said. "So that's the point as a manager, kind of a steward of his situation, right? I don't want to tell him what he can or can't do. So let's watch him. Let's talk to him. And let's just see what he does. Let's see how it plays out. Right now, there are no limits. I don't want to build in 'Shohei rules.'"