Shohei Ohtani has never thrown a pitch or made a plate appearance in an MLB game, yet he was perhaps the biggest prize of the offseason.
And the Los Angeles Angels landed him.
With a sweet left-handed swing to go along with his cannon for a right arm, Ohtani hits almost as well as he pitches, making him a rare two-way player. Thanks to his exploits in Nippon Professional Baseball, he’s been referred to as the Japanese Babe Ruth, a nickname that has generated outsized excitement and outsized expectations.
Of course, even Ruth eventually chose to focus on hitting only, and it remains to be seen how the winner of the Ohtani sweepstakes will use him in the states. But no matter what, the 23-year-old phenom’s journey to a long-awaited MLB career has been full of twists and turns.
Below, find out everything you need to know about one of baseball’s truly unique stars.
Despite having never appeared in an MLB game, Shohei Ohtani has become the talk of baseball.
In just five seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, the 23-year-old Ohtani has become renowned for his ability to affect the game both at the plate…
…and from the mound.
Baseball executives have been watching him for years. Ohtani’s fastball was clocked at 100 mph as a high schooler, a sign of things soon to come.
Japanese high school basebal l Ohtani :160mile pic.twitter.com/M1rNaXl6yD
— Jordan-sports (@Jodanphysicali2) August 3, 2017
With Ohtani’s name quickly rising in MLB circles, the phenom was said to have met with the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Rangers. In late 2012, he announced his plan to pursue an MLB career, saying, “It’s been my dream since entering high school.”
Source: Associated Press
But despite his stated intentions, NPB’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters took Ohtani in the first round of the 2012 amateur draft. He ultimately chose to stay in Japan.
Source: Associated Press
Now Ohtani had landed in the US, signing with the Angels after putting his prodigious talent on full display across the Pacific.
He debuted for the Fighters as an 18-year-old in 2013, becoming the youngest rookie to be used as both a position player and a pitcher in over 60 years. Despite mediocre numbers, he was voted into the All-Star Game that summer.
Source: New York Times
Ohtani showed steady improvement on the mound throughout 2014 and 2015, leading the league in ERA and earning Best Nine honours (the equivalent of an All-Pro or All-NBA designation) in the latter year.
Along the way, he made history. In 2014, he became the first Japanese player to hit 10 home runs and log 10 pitcher wins in the same season.
Source: The Japan Times
He also holds the record for the fastest recorded pitch in NPB history, throwing a 101.9 mph heater against the Orix Buffaloes in 2016.
Source: Baseball America
In the fall of 2014, Ohtani appeared in an exhibition game against a number of prominent MLB players. He had a strong outing, striking out Ben Zobrist with a gorgeous forkball.
The MLB All-Stars manager and then-Red Sox skipper John Farrell was impressed with Ohtani. “He’s one of the better pitching prospects, regardless where he comes from,” he said after the game.
Source: The Japan Times
But despite his progress on the mound, Ohtani struggled at the plate. In 2015, he hit more like the Japanese Mario Mendoza than the Japanese Babe Ruth, and his slash line cratered to a dismal .202/.252/.376.
He came back stronger than ever the following year, posting a .322/.416/.588 slash line in 382 plate appearances and a 1.86 ERA across 140 innings. He earned Best Nine honours as both a designated hitter and a pitcher.
He was also named MVP of the Pacific League, and the Fighters won the Japan Series over the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in six games.
As can be seen below, Ohtani has a dangerous power stroke…
…but most scouts see his MLB future as being on the mound. He can still touch the triple digits, and he has three plus pitches at his disposal: a fastball, a splitter, and a slider.
Ohtani has drawn comparisons to another flame-throwing ace: Justin Verlander, who just won the World Series with the Houston Astros.
Source: New York Post
And Ohtani’s two-way talent means he’s often compared to another American superstar: the Hall of Famer Babe Ruth.
Ohtani posted an .859 OPS and a 2.52 ERA in his first five professional seasons, while Ruth had an .894 OPS and a 2.09 ERA over a similar period. It’s a flawed comparison that stretches across time and distance, but still a tantalising look at Ohtani’s potential impact.
Amid the desperation across MLB to sign him, Ohtani chose the Angels because of fit, according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan.
Source: Jeff Passan/Twitter
Under MLB’s new labour agreement, teams are limited in how much they can pay amateur free agents under the age of 25. Ohtani would have been in line for a staggering payday had he decided to wait two more years, but instead, he chose to take a pay cut to play against the best competition in the world.
Next, MLB and NPB agreed to a new posting system, allowing the Fighters to receive $US20 million for letting Ohtani walk.
Ohtani’s agent previously said Ohtani wanted to be used as both a pitcher and a hitter. Though the Angels play in the American League, Ohtani could pitch and dabble with hitting the DH spot.
Source: CBS Sports
Ohtani’s decision surprised some. He had spurned the Yankees before making his decision, and a few other smaller-market teams were said to be in the race.
Source: New York Daily News
Even after months of intrigue, Ohtani is still an unknown quantity to American fans, and perhaps even to most MLB organisations…
…but with his incredible skill set, he’s going to be one of the most intriguing players to watch in 2017. 29 other teams will be watching the Angels with envy this year.
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