Shohei Ohtani: An Introduction
Max Rosenfeld delivers a primer on Shohei Ohtani, the latest Japanese phenom headed to Major League Baseball for the 2018 season.
A lot has been said about Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani in the early parts of the MLB offseason, and for good reason. Ohtani is a two-way pitching and hitting prospect that looks to revolutionize baseball. Ohtani’s move to America now seems like a foregone conclusion- so who is he, what makes him special, and where might he wind up?
Who did he play for?
Since 2013, Ohtani has played for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, often viewed as the class of Japan’s Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball.
How old is he?
At just 23 years old, Ohtani has not yet reached the peak of his powers. Ohtani wants to come to the United States to prove he is capable of performing at the game’s highest level. Most experts feel as though the Pacific League’s quality of play is somewhere between Triple-A and Major League Baseball, though closer to Triple-A. Playing in America wold give Ohtani the opportunity to perform on baseball’s grandest stage.
How good is he?
Startlingly good. Ohtani has often been referred to as the Babe Ruth of Japan because of his ability to pitch and hit at an elite level. He is the most highly regarded Japanese prospect since Ichiro and will make an immediate impact on a Major League roster.
In 82 career starts, Ohtani has recorded a 2.52 ERA in 543 innings. He’s amassed 624 strikeouts while walking just 200, and has given up a measly 384 hits and 24 home runs in that time. Ohtani’s fastball reaches triple digits, which has drawn natural comparison’s to Noah Syndergaard. Ohtani seems to be a surefire All-Star talent from the mound and could very will wind up as the ace for a contending club.
Ohtani is nearly as dangerous with the bat, too. Capable of playing the outfield, Ohtani has spent most of his time as a designated hitter when inserted into the lineup. He has a career slash line of .286/.358/.500 and hit a career high 22 home runs in 104 games in 2016. Ohtani’s ability to hit is not a gimmick- unlike Madison Bumgarner or other pitchers who can hold their own at the dish. Ohtani is a legitimately polished and talented batter. He is at least deserving of a chance to hit in the Major Leagues.
ESPN’s Dan Szymborski calculated Ohtani’s 2016 Major League equivalencies recently.
Pitching: 11-3, 3.24 ERA, 133 1/3 IP, 146 SO, 51 BB, 10 HR
Hitting: .289/.356/.547, 22 HR in 342 AB
Most scouts rate him higher as a pitcher than as a batter, but feel that he can flourish in either role.
Why did it take so long to know if he is coming?
In order for a player to come to Major League Baseball from Nippon Professional Baseball, the two sides need to work out a deal within the posting system that was agreed upon by the two leagues. The posting system was just re-negotiated by the MLB Player’s Association, but for this offseason, last year’s rules will still apply.
So what is the posting system?
The Nippon Ham Fighters will receive the maximum $20 million for granting their player the right to play for Major League Baseball. Once Ohtani is posted, which will likely occur within the next two weeks, he will have roughly three weeks to make a decision on where he will sign. Ohtani is free to negotiate with any Major League team, but will need to stay within their international bonus pool money because he is under 25 years old. Had Ohtani waited two years to come to America, he would have been able to sign as lucrative a deal as a club was willing to give him. This tells us something very important about Ohtani: he is not motivated by money. Rather, he wants to come succeed in the United States as quickly as possible.
What implications does this have on his signing?
This means there will be no real bidding war for Ohtani. Any team is capable of paying the $20 posting fee, making him available to small market clubs as well. But the problem for most teams is that there is a discrepancy in who still has a significant amount of international bonus pool money, meaning that there are only a handful of teams that will be in competition for Ohtani. It’s uncertain if Ohtani has a preference as to where he will land. He has yet to name any possible destinations, but we can predict where he might wind up based on looking at each team’s remaining international bonus pool money.
So who’s got the money to sign him?
The Yankees, of course. New York has the second most bonus pool money with $3.5 million, trailing only the Texas Rangers, who have $3.55 million at their disposal.
New York also has the ability to offer Ohtani an opportunity to regularly DH given that they do not have a defined batter to fill that role just yet. This could pique Ohtani’s interest, and the allure of the Yankees may be too hard to turn down.
But as we know by his decision to leave Japan early, Ohtani does not care about money. All that’s left is for him to decide.
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