Why the Angels went to Japan to meet with Shohei Ohtani's old team

Big League Stew

As the Los Angeles Angels prepare for Shohei Ohtani mania — which begins with their first spring workout Feb. 14 — GM Billy Eppler took an understandable but uncommon step this week: He met with Ohtani’s previous team in Japan to figure out the best way to use the Angels’ prized new talent.

Ohtani, the 23-year-old star dubbed “the Japanese Babe Ruth,” chose the Angels last month when he jumped from professional Japanese baseball to MLB. He can pitch and hit — a two-way star who can throw 102 mph on the mound and smack homers at the plate. He’s like nothing the Angels have ever seen before, so it makes perfect sense that the Angels would seek counsel from the people who know Ohtani best.

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Shohei Ohtani, center, at his introductory press conference with the Angels in December. (AP)
Shohei Ohtani, center, at his introductory press conference with the Angels in December. (AP)

Angels GM Billy Eppler met with officials from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Monday in Chiba, Japan, according to The Japan Times. Eppler didn’t disclose details of the meeting, but Ham Fighters officials shed some light, including manager Hideki Kuriyama.

Kuriyama said he was pleased to see the Angels are committed to making the transition smooth for Ohtani, who played five seasons with the Sapporo-based team.

“I think he wants to know how we worked with him,” Kuriyama said. “I noticed how the team is hard-working and sincere.”

Nippon Ham general manager Hiroshi Yoshimura, who also attended the meeting, said he assumed Eppler had hoped to gather information about how the Fighters used Ohtani during their games. The Japanese team provided the Angels with Ohtani’s data about his pitching and training methods from the past five seasons.

Eppler also was in Japan to visit Ohtani, who is rehabbing from offseason ankle surgery but is expected to be ready for spring training. The Angels have already said they plan to be creative in their use of Ohtani, but this just proves they’re even willing to listen to outside perspectives. We don’t know the full scope of the Angels’ plan yet, but it looks like they’re doing every bit of due diligence.

As part of MLB’s posting agreement, the Angels are paying $20 million directly to the Fighters for Ohtani. So it makes sense they’d also be interested in getting some tips and best practices from the Fighters. They’ve paid enough to get them.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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