Shohei Ohtani is doing what hasn't been done in baseball in almost a century, and he's making it look ridiculously easy. There you go. That's the really amazing thing -- the almost unbelievable thing -- Ohtani has done in his first week in the Major Leagues.If you showed up to
Shohei Ohtani is doing what hasn't been done in baseball in almost a century, and he's making it look ridiculously easy. There you go. That's the really amazing thing -- the almost unbelievable thing -- Ohtani has done in his first week in the Major Leagues.
If you showed up to watch the Angels play at Angel Stadium this week, you would have been excited to watch this new kid, the 23-year-old designated hitter with the sweet left-handed swing.
You had read that he's one of baseball's best hitting prospects, that he has superstar written all over him. You would not have been disappointed after watching him launch a couple of balls over the fence.
You would have watched him fly out of the batter's box as well, and at some point, you knew you were seeing something special.
Maybe it was a single on Tuesday night that Statcast™ clocked at 112.8 mph, the hardest-hit ball by an Angels player since August. Overall, Ohtani is hitting .429 with a pair of home runs.
Ohtani hit two against the Indians this week, one off a Josh Tomlin curveball on Tuesday and another on a 93-mph Corey Kluber fastball on Wednesday. As you watched all of this unfold, you might have forgotten that hitting a baseball isn't even the thing Ohtani does best.
Yes, he pitches, too. In his first start for the Angels on Sunday, he went six innings, allowed three runs and got the win in a 7-4 victory over the A's. He did it with a fastball that averaged 98 mph and with a split-finger pitch that was pretty much untouchable.
That one comes in hard on right-handed hitters, challenging their eyes and guts before dipping wickedly at home plate. That pitch is going to generate consistent swings-and-misses, and when Ohtani gets it up in the strike zone, it's going to shatter bats and buckle knees.
Ohtani the pitcher was labeled a can't-miss prospect and was the No. 1 reason almost every team sought to sign him in the offseason. They were less certain about the hitting. They were even less certain about any player having the time to hone two completely separate crafts.
And that's what made this first week so impressive. Fans in the ballpark know that they're seeing something baseball fans haven't seen before. MLB Pipeline rates Ohtani the top overall prospect (he's No. 1 among right-handed pitchers and No. 4 among outfielders). Fantasy leagues are listing him as two players, a hitter and a pitcher.
Because of that, his games are about to become can't-miss television. There was an electricity in the park every time he stepped into the batter's box this week.
These players don't come along very often, and this may be about to become what it was when Fernando Valenzuela pitched for the Dodgers or Mark Fidrych for the Tigers. Games suddenly become events, even for casual fans.
Sometimes, a player comes along who is just different, who is capable of doing things even other big leaguers don't dream of doing.
No player in 99 years -- think Babe Ruth in 1919, his final season with the Red Sox -- has done what Ohtani did in his first week: Win a game as a starting pitcher and hit a home run as a hitter.
This is the coolest thing in baseball in a long time. Just when we thought the game simply could not get any better, what with the captivating postseason contests and the tidal wave of young talent, along comes something that almost no one thought possible.
Baseball in recent years has become more and more interested in the possibility of having a true two-way player. With benches shorter and bullpens deeper, every team is looking for a way to save a roster spot.
The Rays are using Brendan McKay, a 2017 first-round pick from the University of Louisville, as both a pitcher and hitter. The Dodgers would like outfielder Brett Eibner, who did both at the University of Arkansas, to try it later this summer when he returns from Tommy John surgery. The Reds, meanwhile, are going to have their own two-way star, Hunter Greene, focus exclusively on pitching -- for now.
But most baseball people see the role as one of super utility player, a sort of Benjamin Zobrist hybrid who can also throw an inning now and then.
They can't get their minds around someone with two off-the-chart skillsets, a player gifted enough to start 25 games on the mound and maybe also get 300 plate appearances.
To do something like that would require a superman. There simply won't be enough time to put in the work require to do both, so he will have to rely on his raw skills.
In one week, Ohtani has done just that. When he comes to your city, you may be compelled to go out and see for yourself.
So in the very first week of this new season, we are captivated by something we never expected to see again. Don't you love it?
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.