What have we learned about Shohei Ohtani so far?

BySam Miller and David Schoenfield ESPN logo
Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Have you caught Shohei Ohtani fever yet? After months of anticipation, we got our first regular-season look at the Angels' two-way star against major league competition, as Ohtani DH'd twice and then went six innings on the mound during L.A.'s season-opening series with the Oakland A's.

Now that Ohtani's quest is unfolding, we asked ESPN's David Schoenfield and Sam Miller to weigh in with their early -- emphasis on early -- thoughts after watching him in action.

Which is the real Ohtani? The one who struggled this spring or the one who showed flashes of brilliance during Opening Week?

Sam Miller: If by "struggled this spring" we're asking if he's a Double-A-caliber pitcher who will hit .125 in the majors, the answer was always going to be the other option. Ohtani has tremendous physical skills and has succeeded against high-level Japanese competition in large samples. A few games that don't count wouldn't make you doubt any of that.

Of course, if the question is "will he show flashes of brilliance?" -- that's begging the real question. We know he'll show flashes. His tools are too good not to. The question is whether he will have the stamina, the depth of skills and the ability to adjust that will allow those flashes to turn into a well-rounded star over the course of a long season and career. One week doesn't answer that. For now, I'll stick with "shrug, but I'm excited!"

David Schoenfield:There's a reason every team wanted this guy, and we finally saw why on Sunday. Ohtani dominated in Japan -- he had a 1.86 ERA in his last healthy season there in 2016 -- because he has ace-level stuff. He struggled with throwing strikes in spring training, and some of that might simply have been rust after he didn't pitch much in 2017 because of an ankle injury, plus adapting to a slightly different baseball. The fastball command might still be a work in progress, and his slider wasn't always sharp, but the splitter is deadly, and he showed great composure in settling down after Matt Chapman's three-run homer.

Which of his tools has impressed you the most so far?

Miller: The ability to get swinging strikes. He got 18 of them in his first start, which, by comparison, is more than Justin Verlander got in any start last year. Making major league batters swing and miss is hard to fake, even on a pitcher's best day.

Schoenfield:You know, his most impressive tool might be the one he'll use the least: his speed. During his DH outing on Opening Day, he hit one routine ground ball up the middle and nearly beat the throw. The man can fly, with Keith Law giving him an 80 speed grade on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. His raw power is 70. The point is Ohtani might be the best athlete in the majors, which bodes well for his ability to not just maximize his talent on the mound but also hit well enough to keep earning playing time at DH.

Which of his tools are you most concerned about so far?

Miller: As a DH, Ohtani is going to have to hit a lot to stand out. As a pitcher, he'll have to stand out as a DH to justify the extra strain a two-way role puts on him. Five at-bats are certainly not enough to judge his hitting -- and he did hit the ball hard, albeit on the ground -- but after the bad spring, after some critical evaluations from anonymous scouts, after seeing the challenges other Japanese hitters have had transitioning to the majors, it's not at all obvious that he has that kind of offensive ceiling, especially if it has to develop in a part-time role with lots of other distractions and physical demands.

Schoenfield:The same one that most scouts are skeptical about: his hit tool. After his rough spring at the plate, he appeared to consciously shorten his swing in the opener, which resulted in four ground balls to the right side (plus a strikeout). One bounced through for a hit, but to get to his power, Ohtani is going to have to prove that he can handle the hard stuff inside.

Which is more likely for Ohtani in 2018: hitting 20 home runs or winning 10 games?

Miller: Winning 10 games, easily.

Schoenfield: Winning 10 games. Even if the Angels stick to a six-man rotation all season, he should get 25 or 26 starts. The key will be keep his pitch counts low enough, like he did Sunday, for him to remain in the game for six or seven innings to get those decisions.

Which is more likely: Ohtani's 2018 features a stint in the minors or Ohtani's 2018 ends with a Rookie of the Year award?

Schoenfield:Rookie of the Year. After his spring performance, I suggestedthat the Angels had to consider starting him in the minors. His first start showed why that won't be necessary. There's always the chance he loses complete command of his fastball and has to be sent down, but he's probably here to stay, and he's certainly capable of a 3-WAR season just on the mound. Without any other obvious Rookie of the Year favorites in the American League, he could be the winner.

Miller: Rookie of the Year award. Ohtani is certainly one of the Angels' 10 best players, and that's probably conservative.

What is a 2018 stat line -- hitter/pitcher combined -- that would make Ohtani's rookie season a success, and will he get there?

Miller: 130 innings with a 3.80 ERA and a .770 OPS in 200 or so plate appearances. If he stays healthy, he should get there, though I wouldn't be shocked by an OPS 150 points higher or lower.

Schoenfield:The Angels need him to produce on the mound. We have no idea what kind of patience Mike Scioscia will extend to Ohtani at the plate, so I think the success will be determined mostly by his pitching performance. Yu Darvish went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA his first season with the Rangers, and though Ohtani won't pitch 191 innings like Darvish did, I think he can beat that ERA.