With Japanese star Shohei Ohtani set to enter the Majors as a member of the Angels next season, fantasy owners now face a tough question: What's his value?With the skills to impact fantasy leagues as a pitcher and hitter, the 23-year-old presents a scoring dilemma that has not been seen
With Japanese star Shohei Ohtani set to enter the Majors as a member of the Angels next season, fantasy owners now face a tough question: What's his value?
With the skills to impact fantasy leagues as a pitcher and hitter, the 23-year-old presents a scoring dilemma that has not been seen since the popularization of fantasy baseball. As MLB.com covered earlier this week, several reasonable options exist to handle his arrival. Although Ohtani's fantasy outlook could vary greatly based on which settings a league uses, the evaluation process for the two-way star begins much like it does for any other player -- with a statistical projection.
:: Shohei Ohtani coverage ::
Ohtani, the pitcher: Although his allure as a two-way asset is undeniable, Ohtani presents much greater fantasy appeal as a pitcher than he does as a hitter at this point. With stellar lifetime statistics (2.52 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 10.3 K/9 rate) across five seasons in Japan, the righty clearly has the potential to be one of the most effective starters in the American League on a per-inning basis during his debut season. His ability to limit scoring should be aided by a pitcher-friendly home park and a defensive unit that is led by Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
True, Ohtani may lack the workload of a mixed-league ace after posting a single-season high of 160 2/3 innings in Japan. But even with that concern, the righty can be drafted as a No. 2 fantasy starter.
MLB.com pitching projection: 160 IP, 175 SO, 3.20 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
ZiPS pitching projection: 139 IP, 161 SO, 3.55 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
Ohtani, the hitter: While Ohtani has a great chance to thrive on the mound, his outlook at the plate is less certain. The slugger definitely has some pop (48 career homers across 1,170 plate appearances in Japan) and could produce 20 long balls with 60 RBIs if he receives 400 plate appearances next year. But after a career strikeout rate of 27 percent in Japan, Ohtani may have trouble making contact consistently when he faces a steady stream of Major League hurlers.
Beyond that, Ohtani's offensive workload is still up in the air. The Angels have Jose Pujols at designated hitter and three durable outfielders in Michael Trout, Justin Upton and Kole Calhoun. After using Pujols at first base just 34 times over the past two seasons, manager Mike Scioscia will either need to send the veteran into the field more often in his age-38 campaign or find another way to get Ohtani regular opportunities to step into the batter's box.
MLB.com hitting projection: 310 AB, 15 HR, 47 RBIs, 44 R, 1 SB, .265 BA
ZiPS projection: .266/.328/.466 slash line
In general, wise owners will draft Ohtani with the expectation of utilizing him almost exclusively as a pitcher. Valued solely on his mound potential, the righty will still be among the top-60 selections in many drafts. And if everything breaks right on the other side of the ball, Ohtani could present fantasy owners with the good problem of having to determine where they wish to start him during each 2018 scoring period.
A fair fantasy comparison on the pitching side might be Mariners southpaw James Paxton, who has ace-level potential (2.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 10.3 K/9 rate in 2017) but is unlikely to log an ace-like workload next season (career-high 136 innings in '17). While Paxton is the bigger injury risk, a rosy outlook for either hurler still projects them for fewer than 180 frames.
A fair fantasy comparison on the hitting side might be the recent rookie season of Royals outfielder Jorge Bonifacio. After debuting at age 23, the now-24-year-old hit .255 with 17 homers across 422 plate appearances this year. If given a comparable workload, the 23-year-old Ohtani could produce a reasonable facsimile of Bonifacio's .255/.320/.432 slash line.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.