Coming into spring training, it seemed the biggest question surrounding Shohei Ohtani was whether he’d start the Los Angeles Angels season opener as a pitcher or the team’s designated hitter. The point being, Ohtani’s inclusion on the opening day roster was considered to be a foregone conclusion from the moment he signed in December, until he first took the hill in the Cactus League.
What a difference three weeks make.
What was considered a guarantee then, is far from a sure thing now. That’s the word straight from Los Angeles Angels camp, where it’s become clear that Ohtani’s spring training performance as a pitcher and a hitter have the team concerned he won’t be ready or able to contribute on opening day.
According to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, as a result of Ohtani’s struggles, the Angels are at least keeping open the possibility of starting him in the minor leagues. That comes after the team received its latest dose of startling reality on Friday, when Ohtani was shelled by a lineup filled with Colorado Rockies regulars.
Ohtani was tagged for seven runs in an inning plus in that particular outing. That raised his spring ERA to 16.21. That number includes the six runs he allowed in a “B” game to the Tijuana Toros.
Shohei Ohtani's spring so far: 8 1/3 innings, 18 hits, 17 runs, 15 earned runs, 19 strikeouts, 3 walks, 4 HRs. #Angels (Corrected K total)
— Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR) March 16, 2018
Offensively, he hasn’t been much better. Some scouts have suggested he would need at least 500 at-bats in the minors to help his development with the bat. Given his two-way status, that would be akin to two-plus years in the minors. Obviously, the Angels aren’t going to wait that long to test him in the major leagues, but it sounds like they’ll at least make Ohtani prove he’s one of their 25 best players right now.
Eppler said the Angels have given no assurances to Ohtani that he will be on the opening-day roster. One benefit to the Angels by starting Ohtani at triple-A Salt Lake and keeping him there for the first 15 days of the major league season is that it would push his free agency back by a year.
“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.”
Time and patience may prove to be the two most important words in this story. That goes for the Angels, for Ohtani himself, and for the fans who want to reach an immediate verdict.
Though some believe Ohtani will be a different player when the games start to count, this doesn’t seem to be a situation where he can simply flip a switch. That’s not to say he can’t figure it out, or that he won’t be a contributor soon. Chances are he will be once he makes a few adjustments. But the Angels feel like they have a playoff team this season, and that means winning games has to be a priority too.
If someone else helps them more now, that’s the direction the Angels should go. If they get the added benefit of Ohtani gaining more polish in the minors and really helping them later on, they’ll have come out ahead on two fronts.
The reality is, there would be no shame for anyone involved if it’s determined Ohtani needs time in the minor leagues. There might be, though, if the two sides can’t put the future before the present.
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