After historic MVP season, what will Angels' Shohei Ohtani do for an encore? 'There's room for improvement'

TEMPE, Ariz. — You know times have changed when Mike Trout is no longer the Los Angeles Angels’ biggest spring-training attraction.

That’s life when you happen to be on the same team with Shohei Ohtani.

There were about 55 credentialed TV crews and reporters on hand Tuesday to listen to Ohtani in his first press conference since winning the MVP award in November.

He set the bar to unimaginable levels, and now inquiring folks want to know what he could possibly do for an encore.

“I feel like I can’t be doing the same thing as last year, and have the same stats as last year,’’ Ohtani said through his interpreter. “I need to get better and keep on improving. ...

“Skills-wise, there’s room for improvement. Physically, I already feel stronger than last year, so that’s a good start.’’

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This is coming from a guy who produced the greatest two-way season in baseball history. He hit 46 home runs, produced 80 extra-base hits and stole 26 bases as a hitter. He went 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130⅓ innings as a pitcher.

He actually hit as many homers as the number of earned runs he allowed.

No one in baseball history, not even Babe Ruth, had the kind of two-way season as Ohtani.

Ohtani, who had hundreds of fans screaming his name when he left the clubhouse Tuesday, became an international sensation and perhaps the face of baseball.

Shohei Ohtani during a workout in Tempe.
Shohei Ohtani during a workout in Tempe.

Really, the only person not completely blown away by his two-way performance is Ohtani, himself.

“Nothing is really going to change personally from just having one good year,’’ Ohtani said. “I feel like the key is to consistently have success for the long haul …

“I try looking at the long run, a five-to-10-year-span. I want to keep doing what I’ve been doing and trying to improve.’’

Ohtani, who took batting practice on the field Monday and threw 24 pitches in a bullpen session Tuesday, says he feels as healthy as he has since signing with the Angels. Ohtani, 6-foot-4, weighs about the same at 225 pounds, but says he’s stronger. He believes there’s no reason he can’t stay healthy all year, just as he did last year.

And as long as he stays healthy, well, someone will be paying him a whole lot of money.

Ohtani is scheduled to earn $5.5 million this year and is eligible for free agency after the 2023 season.

So the Angels can pay him now, or later.

Ohtani, 27, says he won’t worry about it. That’s why he has his agent, Nez Balelo.

“I just want to focus on the season,’’ he said. “Whether they approach me about it or not during the season, I will leave that to my agent.’’

Ohtani, who has been in the Phoenix area for most of the past month, says he’ll be ready to start on Opening Day. He’s not lobbying for the start, and certainly is not in charge of the decision, but would consider it an honor, making his first Opening Day start in his major league career.

The opener is April 7 against the Houston Astros at Angel Stadium.

You can be assured, as long as Ohtani is healthy, he’ll be on the mound.

It’s Sho-Time: The Sequel.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Shohei Ohtani, Angels' two-way star, ready to follow up historic year