The value of players’ performances during spring training has always been a debatable topic. With today’s preseason baseball receiving more coverage and attention than ever before, the Los Angeles Angels’ camp in Tempe, Arizona has been one of Major League Baseball’s most observed spring training facilities this year. Through the Halos’ first 18 games of the 2018 preseason, there are some mixed assessments arising from their camp thus far, but it remains to be seen how much these early games should indicate players’ expected regular season performances.
Signing the Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani has attracted flocks of media and scouts interested in getting first looks at the young two-way player some were praising as a “Japanese Babe Ruth.” Early impressions have most scouts around the league projecting Ohtani to be big-league ready as a pitcher, but as a hitter most feel he needs more seasoning in the minor leagues to iron out some of the kinks in his swing. During his first three outings on the mound, his ability as a pitcher to combine high-velocity fastballs and devastating, effective offspeed pitches can clearly get big-league hitters out. However, Ohtani’s early performance as a hitter has many around the league questioning his ability to produce well offensively at the MLB level. With just two hits in his first 14 at-bats, Ohtani’s early evaluations at the plate reveal some alarming tendencies within his swing, but is it way too soon to claim he won’t make it as a hitter in this league?’
Here’s a supercut of the prettiest pitches thrown by Shohei Ohtani in his three inning outing today against the Brewers.
His slider is looking so good. pic.twitter.com/Y9RZP6YKXO
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) March 2, 2018
The raw stuff that Ohtani has exhibited on the mound has been ace-like at times, but his box scores are misleading. After a rough outing last Friday against the Tijuana Toros of the Mexican League where he needed 64 pitches in three innings and gave up six hits including a solo home run, he’s now allowed 10 runs over his seven innings pitched this spring. His strikeout total (16) is encouraging, however, and spectators are raving about the movement and change of speeds with his pitch arsenal. Evaluators so far feel Ohtani has what it takes to have sustained success at the major-league level as a pitcher, but his at-bats this spring have generated a different opinion.
Over his 17 plate appearances in spring action thus far, Ohtani has two hits, three walks, five strikeouts and one RBI. He’s shown in batting practice that his raw power from the left side is legitimate, but his in-game at-bats have revealed some discouraging mechanics according to most scouts around the league.
Shohei Ohtani put on quite the show during batting practice. He launched a homer over the batter’s eye at Tempe Diablo Stadium and also hit one over the scoreboard in right field.
— Maria I. Guardado (@mi_guardado) February 22, 2018
He has shown some difficulty with handling inside fastballs and has begun to lean towards right field while swinging in an attempt to compensate. This has opened up the outside part of the plate with offspeed pitches, which why we’ve seen Ohtani look foolish a couple times at the plate this spring, especially against Clayton Kershaw and Zack Godley.
Zack Godley striking out Shohei Ohtani for the second time today with his filthy curveball pic.twitter.com/Hno4j71f41
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) March 6, 2018
Jeff Passan, respected Yahoo Sports columnist, published a piece earlier this week about some scouts’ assessments of Ohtani thus far, and their evaluations are mostly the same. They feel “his swing contains flaws in balance and mechanics, and that he needs at least 500 plate appearances of seasoning in the minor leagues to give him a chance at becoming a productive major league hitter.” The Angels likely don’t have the luxury to allow Ohtani to start the season with their Triple A affiliate, Salt Lake Bees. They have arranged their roster around Ohtani’s two-way abilities – going with the six-man rotation and dealing C.J. Cron to open up first base time for Albert Pujols. We’re likely going to witness a lot of strikeouts both with Ohtani on the mound and at the plate, but for the bargain that the talented, young two-way player was for the Halos, he’s making a great case for the best offseason free agent signing. Shohei Ohtani is essentially trying to be the first successful pitcher-hitter since Babe Ruth, and his highly-anticipated rookie season will be one baseball fans should all enjoy.