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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shohei Ohtani deserves all the credit

Por Fidel Orihuela

It cannot be said that the Angels from Los Angeles are facing patiently the season of 2018 in the MLB, basically because the team has only gotten to the postseason in the present decade in one occasion (2014), and their last trip to the World Series was in 2002, when they won their only title. However, the expectations are growing at the same time as their new star, the Japanese player Shohei Ohtani, imposes respect in the MLB, with fabulous projections.

The 23-year-old has landed at great speed in the USA, and after an unstable preseason has impressed both in the mound as well as batting. Ohtani has responded that way to the expectations that placed him as the most coveted international free agent of the last five years, to the point in which he reunited with several teams of the MLB which tried hard to convinced him to sign during the off-season.

The Japanese decided to play for the Angels, who offered him the possibility of pitching and batting full time, something that the other franchises were not even willing to considerate, maybe because of the uncertainty generated by a possible failure of the Japanese player in both roles. The talented player triumphed in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), where he impressed by his impressive batting skills and his strong throwing arm as well, but in the USA it is not common that a player can succeed in this unusual two-way role.

Nevertheless, it would be odd for the Los Angeles’ team to give their back to their new star in case he could not maintain the consistency he showed in his first starts, mostly because they paid a very low price for his services (a signing bonus of 2.31 million dollars). That short amount of time in which he has been in the roster represents a great peace of mind for the team managed by Mike Scioscia, who can afford to give Ohtani more time to adapt himself and who maybe, in the future will decide to either play as a batter or as a pitcher, it will depend on which role he feels more comfortable on.

Judging by his characteristics and by what has been seen in his first starts in the USA, Shohei has what it takes to be a solid starter in the MLB, based on the power of his fastball and the variability of a repertoire, that if maneuvered with effectiveness, could be as lethal as Yu Darvish’s one, who has already stablished himself him the USA. However, the possibility of his choosing the offensive has not been ruled out. This a more complex role due to the fact that he has not a defined trajectory in any of the field positions and he still shows some deficiencies in his long swing, which he has used to hit the ball with strength in his first at bats.

That is a matter that should be taken into consideration in the future, because the initial plan of the Angels is to use Ohtani as part of a six men rotation and as designated hitter, shifting his off days and throwing a bullpen between his starts and his appearances in the starting line-up. This opportunity of playing a two-way role is one of baseball’s most bold move, because we are in the era of specialization, in which it is hard to believe that there is still a player like the ones we had one hundred years ago.