All Rise! After the rookie campaign mounted by Aaron Judge, can any Yankee fan say they are not ready for the phenom known as the “Japanese Babe Ruth?” As fans of Major League Baseball await, Shohei Ohtani decides where he will play among the 30 teams vying for his services. Arguably the best baseball player in the world not playing in MLB, Ohtani is a dual threat, hitting 100 mph on the radar gun and mashing home runs out of the park.
Ohtani is used to being a phenom. He recorded the fastest pitch by a Japanese high school pitcher at 99 mph. He decided to pursue MLB after high school and spoke with several teams, including the Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers; however, after negotiating with the Nippon Ham Fighters, he decided to begin his career with the NPB and then make the move to MLB a few years later. Yankee fans now anxiously await Ohtani’s posting to find out whether he will join the Bombers as they pursue the World Series berth that alluded them in 2017.
On Friday, Ohtani, through his agents, sent a memorandum to all MLB clubs asking them to do the following (in both Japanese and English): 1) evaluate Ohtani’s talent as a hitter and a pitcher, 2) explain it’s player development, medical training and player performance philosophies and facilities, 3) describe its minor league and spring training facilities, 4) detail resources for his cultural assimilation into the city, 5) demonstrate a vision for how he will integrate into the team’s organization, 6) tell him why the team is a desirable place to play. Ohtani gives the appearance of fair play for his services and gives the assumption that he will pare down his list of bidders, knowing already how much each team can offer as a signing bonus. The Yankees can currently offer $3.5 million as a signing bonus. Only the Rangers at $3.535 million are able to offer more.
In his last full year of NPB play in 2016 for the Nippon Ham Fighters, Ohtani had a breakout year, hitting .322/.416/.588 with 22 home runs in 104 games and 382 plate appearances AND he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA. He was named the 2016 MVP of the Pacific League, garnering 253 out of 254 first place votes.
Ohtani played in 65 games in 2017 due to an ankle injury he suffered during the 2016 Japan Series in November. In 2017, he hit .332 with 8 home runs, 31 RBI AND went 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA. During the second week of November 2017, it was announced that Ohtani would have ankle surgery to be ready for the start of the season.
What type of player puts up numbers like these? Babe Ruth? In the Spring of 2017, 60 Minutes aired an interview with Ohtani and what you saw was a very humble young man, 22 years of age, residing in the team dormitory and living baseball 24/7. Jon Morosi conducted an interview with Ohtani in February of 2017 in which he promised the fans he would give 100 percent of his efforts at all times. Ohtani also stated that it was his hope that his play would inspire people in their private lives, cheer them up, “that would probably be the most honorable thing about playing baseball.”
Thad Levine, the Twins General manager, probably spoke for most clubs when recently asked about Ohtani: “He’s a unique free agent, but we don’t know a lot about him personally yet.” Certainly from a fan’s perspective, Ohtani has a winning combination of attributes, a smile as infectious as Didi Gregorius’, a fastball as nasty as Severino’s, and a bat with the pop, maybe not of Judge, but maybe of Starlin Castro.
While in 2018, with expectations for the Yankees being high given their spectacular over-performance in 2017, if the club lands Ohtani, the expectations will soar even nearer to the sun. Ohtani is expected to slot into a rotation already primed with talent and to hit wherever a new manager decides to hit him. Fans assume that Ohtani would be available to be the designated hitter on days he was not pitching, but how Ohtani will fit into the lineup is for the Yankee brain-trust to decide. No doubt Yankees fans will be proud to see Ohtani in pinstripes and will await his first pitch with the same excitement as they await his first at-bat.
-Chris Northrop (@ringoangel653)
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