Shohei Ohtani has been talked about around MLB circles for a while now and the Japanese prospect, who has hit and pitched every year he has played professionally in Japan, officially announced his plans to take a shot at the majors. Most foreign athletes coming to play in America has question marks surrounding his or her abilities strong enough to put up with the grueling schedule, physicality, the language barrier and the strong media presence. Ohtani is no outlier and he faces those same questions but the Japanese product comes with another big question mark. One that does not often asked about a professional athlete at this point their career. What position will he play? No player in the majors has successfully been a pitcher and an everyday player consistently for decades now and none have ever done it being imported from a foreign country.
The move from Japan to America is a hard one for any citizen, nonetheless a professional baseball player. And that transition will be even harder for Ohtani as he will have to get used to both opposing batters and pitchers if he wants to continue “dual-wielding” (the translation for the Japanese term used to describe Ohtani and his decision to pitch and bat). Before anyone even gets into the how will he fair as a batter and pitcher, we must first see if he will really do both. In the press conference yesterday during which he officially announced his plans, he made it clear that he plans on doing what he has been doing his whole career and continue to pitch and bat. But ultimately, it will be up to the manager that decides how to best utilize him, and the general manager and owner that will be pouring millions of dollars in to his pocket. Because of this Ohtani’s decision may not just be based on money or the fame of the club. Most Japanese players in the past have opted to play for the Dodgers, Yankees or Red Sox because of the combination of the aforementioned factors. But if a few teams do not want to have Ohtani batting on top of pitching, then that alone may take them out of the running for him.
This has been a hot topic in Japan as well. Over here, many analysts have talked about how they hope he can do both, but that it ultimately will be difficult. Especially at the beginning. Besides the food, culture, and team change, he will have to get used to the pitching schedule change. Ohtani will have to get used to pitching every 5 days where as in Japan, pitchers get 5 days of rest in between starts. Japanese pitchers are already known for being somewhat overused in high school so having less rest and then having him bat as well and playing the field could lead to injuries.
There will be a lot of attention on him, not only from Japan, but from American media outlets as well as his teammates. What if he is allowed to bat, but starts off slow? If they tell him not to bat, how disappointed will he be? I believe that he has the natural talent to do both in the MLB, but there is also a lot of money and egos to balance so it will be interesting to see what ends up happening. Being Japanese and a baseball fan, this is something that will be intriguing to keep up with.