Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times is reporting that there is speculation across Major League Baseball that the Los Angeles Angels could elect to option two-way player Shohei Ohtani to Triple-A Salt Lake to start the 2018 season.
From DiGiovanna’s article discussing the Ohtani’s spring training as a whole:
“Any decisions the Angels make regarding Shohei Ohtani will be based on their internal assessments of the aspiring pitcher-hitter and not on any external pressure they might feel to include him on their opening-day roster or shoehorn him into a two-way role.”
“Ohtani, touted as the “Babe Ruth of Japan,” has struggled so much on both sides of the ball this spring that there is growing speculation he might open the season in the minor leagues.”
It is very true that Ohtani has struggled both hitting and pitching in his spring action for the Angels, and with eight days to Opening Day, it is very real that he could certainly start out his MLB career at the minor league level. Matter of fact, it could be better for Ohtani to get more seasoning before pitching at the highest professional level possible.
Many say that Japan, where Ohtani played his professional baseball prior to signing with the Angels in December, has a comparable talent level to Triple-A, but a big difference between the talent in Japan and the talent at Triple-A is that Triple-A usually contains the best of the best MLB prospects. If Ohtani is optioned to Triple-A, he would join other MLB top prospects like Ronald Acuna, Gleyber Torres, Victor Robles, Michael Kopech, and Francisco Mejia at that level.
As Ohtani has proven, there are plenty of good prospects in Japan as well. Ichiro Suzuki is one of the best hitters in MLB history, and was the best hitter during his career in Japan. Another example of another Japanese prospect to have success at the MLB level is Masahiro Tanaka, who is said to have a great relationship with Ohtanti. Many thought Ohtani was going to sign with the Yankees because of Tanaka, which made it very surprising when the 23-year-old outfielder/right-handed pitcher told the Yankees he wasn’t going to sign with them.
The point remains that Ohtani’s spring training performance has been lackluster so far. While we have seen flashes of greatness, the overall numbers don’t showcase that. He’s batting just .107/.219/.107 with 1 run batted in across 32 plate appearances and has surrendered eight earned runs and three home runs in just 2.2 innings pitching, giving him a 27.00 earned run average. Both Angels manager Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Charles Nagy have iterated that it’s not up to them to decide Ohtani’s fate, leaving the ball in general manager Billy Eppler’s court:
“In our universe, we are evaluating this in a vacuum,” Eppler said on Friday. “Is this 23-year-old prospect ready to make an impact on both sides of the ball?”
“It’s too early to make a judgment right now,” Eppler said. “I know there’s an inherent human desire to want to know. We’re intellectually curious. But often times, you have to allow things to develop a little bit before getting to that point of trying to figure something out.”
If Ohtani opens the season with the Angels still, he will be apart of a starting rotation of six players. The other five pitchers in the rotation will likely be Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, and Nick Tropeano. Hitting wise, Ohtani won’t play in the outfield, but he will serve as a designated hitter in the games he doesn’t pitch, splitting time with Albert Pujols there.
When considering the possibility that Ohtani could open the season at Triple-A, it’s important to understand that the contract Ohtani signed with the Angels is a minor league pact. That means that Ohtani will make a $545,000 salary at the MLB-level in 2018, which differs from his $2.3 million signing bonus he received to sign with the Angels from the teams’ international signing money.
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