First Look: Shohei Ohtani

It’s really hard to get excited about something when you don’t exactly know what to expect. That seems to be the case with most baseball fans and the newly acquired Los Angeles Angels pitcher, Shohei Ohtani.

Ohtani is the Japanese phenom making his foray into MLB by way of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. Having¬†made his debut with the Nippon Ham Fighters as an 18-year old, Ohtani is now a seasoned 23-year old that can both pitch and hit with the best of them. Already in his young career, he’s been dubbed as ‘Japan’s Babe Ruth.’ The Angels can only hope that Ohtani builds upon his impressive 624 pitching strikeouts, 2.52 ERA, 48 batting home runs, and 166 RBI that he posted over five seasons while with the Ham Fighters.

Two weeks ago, Ohtani made his spring training (pitching) debut against the Milwaukee Brewers. While most fans weren’t impressed with what they initially saw, for all intents and purposes, Ohtani looked like a kid with real potential. It’s true that during his one-and-a-third innings, Ohtani was somewhat all over the place. However, his mechanics were solid and he certainly kept his composure in tough situations.

Ohtani’s first batter was the switch-hitter, Jonathan Villar. Most of Ohtani’s pitches to Villar were low and in the dirt before the big guy finally caught one and sent it deep for a ground ruled double. Ohtani seemed to settle down a bit against his second batter, Nate Orf, who he struck out with a nasty splitter. As Ohtani began to elevate his pitches a bit more against his third batter, Ji-Man Choi, it resulted in a walk.

Things got a bit interesting as Ohtani faced his fourth batter, catcher Manny Pina. Ohtani started off nicely by painting the corner of the plate with a strike, but later found himself in trouble on a wild pitch. Once the Angels’ catcher gathered the ball, he just as quickly made an errant throw to the second baseman. Villar came into score and Choi moved over to third base. This is where Ohtani’s composure kicked in.

Without looking the least bit rattled, Ohtani came back strong and got Pina out on a pop-up behind the plate.

Ohtani’s fifth batter, Brett Phillips, was where he showed his best stuff. He started Phillips off with a fast ball down the middle, getting the batter to take a nice swing at it. Then, for the first time, Ohtani hurled a curvaceous breaking ball over the plate. Not only did he freeze the batter and the umpire, but he got a big roar from the crowd as well. A couple of pitches later, Ohtani came right down the heart of the plate to get Phillips out on strikes.

Keon Broxton led off the second inning for the Brewers, and within two swings, Ohtani had given up his first home run. However, in looking at Ohtani’s body language after the homer, he again appeared very composed. Coach Mike Scioscia left Ohtani in to face Nick Franklin, who he eventually got out on a routine pop-up before his day was finally done.

Overall, Ohtani looks like he’s got good stuff. To the naked eye it might appear that he has control issues, but we’d like to think that Ohtani was just getting rid of the early jitters from being in a new league, with a new team.

Though we’re still trying to get a better feel for Ohtani’s hitting, Clayton Kershaw may still be holding a grudge against the young phenom for choosing the Angels over the Dodgers. Or, more specifically, wasting his time during the offseason to recruit Ohtani.¬†The two faced off in a classic at-bat earlier this week, and though Kershaw won this battle, it’s easy to see that Ohtani may give big league pitchers something to think about. This kid doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

We’re extremely bullish on Ohtani as both a pitcher and a hitter, and you should be too!