Might Rangers re­ally land top prospect?

Seat­tle has edge with sta­dium and weather, but it’s a close con­test

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - Twit­ter: @Tim­cowlishaw

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.

Wt­cowlishaw@dal­las­news.com

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2016 File Photo/afp/7etty Im­ages

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.

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