Am I a genius? Not according to my GPA (3.0, I’m average baby!), but when it comes to sports, I know my stuff.
In January, I made 9 Bold Sports Predictions for 2017. So far, I haven’t been completely wrong. Numbers four and five were centered around a baseball player a lot of people outside of the most passionate fans had never heard of. Nippon Professional Baseball star Shohei Otani is expected to come to the big leagues soon. He’s considered to be Babe Ruth, and this is with him facing much tougher competition than Ruth did during the early 1900s. This guy can legitimately be considered the best baseball player in the world. So who is Shohei Otani? What makes this no-name so great?
Babe Ruth, the only player scouts will compare his talents to, was a two way player. We always talk about how he hit over 700 home runs, however the story doesn’t end there. Over his 143 starts for the Red Sox, Ruth never had an ERA above 3, and rarely allowed home runs. There’s a reason he’s considered to be the best.
Like Ruth, Otani is a two way player. He can hit and pitch with the best of them. Better than the best of them. How his schedule works is he pitches once a week, gets the game before and the game after his weekly start as days off. The other three games he spends as a designated hitter.
NPB is considered to be like AAAA, the second toughest league in the world behind the majors. At the second highest level, Otani hit .322 with 22 home runs in 104 games. He does not steal a lot of bases, but is fast as well. His swing is reguarly compared to that of Bryce Harper. I’ve known about Otani for a while. People have doubted him, and then are in awe when they see how perfect his swing is. That’s when I tell them he is an even better pitcher.
Last season, Otani pitched to an ERA of 1.86. Striking out 174 batters in 140 innings, 100 mile per hour fastballs can be considered routine. You can consider him the starting equivilent of Aroldis Chapman in NPB, breaking the record for fastest pitch last season. The previous fastest also belonged to him. He also offers good secondary pitches, with a strong splitter, slider, and forkball.
So why isn’t Otani in the majors already? Out of high school, he was expected to come straight to America, but was drafted by the Nippon Ham Fighters, who due to Otani’s efforts are the reigning champs.He made a surprise decision to play in Japan for a few reasons. The minor league life style is not overly lucrative, so he could live a happier life in Japan than in the States. Primarily though, the Fighters would let him hit on days where he wasn’t pitching. Otani has a love for the game, and a skill set that he wanted to demonstrate on both sides of the ball.
Now 22 years old (23 in July), Otani feels it’s time to come over to the states. Upon his signing in Japan, the Fighters told him that when he was ready to come over, they’d let him. With 60 Minutes featuring Otani this past Sunday night, it looks pretty clear that next year will be Otani’s year. With international signing restrictions, every team will be after him. The one condition is they have to let him hit and pitch.
With this in mind, if a team lets him hit, they might not want him to play the field, even on his days off. In my opinion, this will enable American League teams to feel more comfortable paying him. My prediction is the Yankees will sign him, but I could see the Mariners, Orioles, Red Sox, Dodgers, Marlins, and Padres making strong efforts to make him their own.
There might be concern with Otani’s ability to play as both a pitcher and hitter in the majors. He is currently on the disabled list because of a thigh injury, sustained while running the bases. He missed the WBC due to an ankle injury suffered while running as well. He is certainly valuable pitching or hitting, but understandably, some teams might be concerned that too much time on the field will lead to injuries.
Otani is currently the most exciting player in the world. Look forward to him coming to the United States. If he is in town, be sure to go to the game to watch him play. A once in a lifetime level talent, he is someone you do not want to miss.
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