Might Rangers really land top prospect?
Seattle has edge with stadium and weather, but it’s a close contest
What makes Shohei Ohtani the top prospect in baseball and why might he want to play for the Texas Rangers? Tim Cowlishaw explains.
If I were Shohei Ohtani — and clearly I’m not, he hits left-handed — I would put the Rangers No. 2 on my wish list. And maybe, just maybe, with a little Texas arm-twisting, I would see my way to bump them up to No. 1.
First things first. Who is Shohei Ohtani?
He’s the big prize in free agency this offseason. I mean, if you want pitching, you can always pay former Cub Jake Arrieta $150 million for six years. Sure he’s 32 next season,
with a declining fastball and innings total and rising ERA the last two seasons. But there’s not much else out there.
That brings us to Ohtani, a 23-year-old right-handed power pitcher from the Nippon Ham Fighters, the team that produced Yu Darvish. In 82 starts in Japan, Ohtani was 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and a higher strikeout ratio than Darvish. Darvish had the better ERA (1.99), but Ohtani is a young pitching prize every team has coveted.
Oh, yeah, there’s that other thing. He’s a great hitter. Not like a Madison Bumgarner great hitter for a pitcher. In roughly the equivalent of two MLB seasons (1,035 at-bats), Ohtani has delivered 48 home runs with 166 RBIS, had an overall .358 on-base and .500 slugging percentage.
So you get a top-of-the-rotation pitcher and a DH who swings like Dodgers Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger. Mind you, I did not say he will hit like Bellinger. It’s ridiculous to say someone who is going to spend a substantial time pitching will hit 39 home runs, as Bellinger did.
But do yourself a favor and Google “Cody Bellinger
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swing” and “Shohei Ohtani swing” and, while you may see differences, you will see a pair of lean 6-4 hitters with a smooth, powerful stroke.
Obviously, no one has pitched and hit regularly in the majors for about a century, so Ohtani is frequently and unfairly called Japan’s Babe Ruth. He’s not going to be that.
Exactly how does he rest his arm and then throw between starts while being on the lineup card every day in a 162-game season? No one knows.
But Ohtani is this winter’s big fish, and this week he cut the number of teams he will meet with to seven. The Rangers made the cut and met with him Tuesday. The New York Yankees did not make it, leading GM Brian Cashman to say that Ohtani wants to play in a smaller market, which, of course, is
every other market, but it caused some erroneously to question his willingness to play on the big major league stage.
And that’s nonsense. He already has chosen to leave money on the table by coming here. He cannot receive a lavish first contract. Whoever lands him gets a bargain, especially right off the bat.
The Rangers had stashed the most international signing bonus money until a pair of trades pushed Seattle a few dollars past the Rangers. But we’re talking tens of thousands, not millions. It does not appear that money will be the deciding factor for Ohtani.
Here’s why I have the Rangers penciled in at No. 2. Four of the teams play in the National League — Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and the Chicago Cubs. They can get as creative as
they want about getting him games in the outfield, but he didn’t play there every day in Japan, where the schedules
are shorter and pitchers work once a week.
So I’m scratching those four, leaving me (as Ohtani) with the Rangers, Angels and Mariners. I’m dropping the Angels because immobile Albert Pujols has years left on his contract and managed only six games at first base in 2017. The DH role seems filled.
That gets us to Texas and Seattle. As someone who is first and foremost a pitcher, I’m picking Seattle’s ballpark and weather over the Texas heat, even if that’s going to be a thing of the past in two years. Maybe the new park will be more pitcher-friendly, which I have to believe will be Ohtani’s major role, if not his only one, over time.
While the Darvish era ended poorly here, he was a very good pitcher who enjoyed his time in Texas. He presumably would give Ohtani, who grew up idolizing him, a glowing report on the D-FW area, the people, the organization.
Not so sure what he would say about manager Jeff Banister as things did not exactly go smoothly the last two years. But would that be a deal-breaker for Ohtani?
I doubt it but, as I said, I’m not him. He hits lefthanded.
And he makes a major decision in the next two weeks as to which team will believe it has upgraded at two spots with one inexpensive move.
Wfhfeiksflbgik4i!flk8bvh- an American League team for the chance to 4H on days when he isn’t pitching. That would leave three teams vying for his services: the Rangers, Angels and Mariners.