The Stardom of Shohei Ohtani started long before he ever stepped foot on US soil. As a high school player, it’s not uncommon to have athletes play multiple positions, but as they rise through the ranks, they’re generally encouraged to pick either to pitch or to play the field. As we know, Shohei Ohtani isn’t like every other high school ball player. Standing 6’4” and 210 lbs, averaging 97 mph on his fastball, the young Japanese pitcher was touching 99 mph as an 18 year-old high school pitcher and outfielder, which drew major interest from MLB teams such as the Rangers, Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers.
With such a strong major league draw, like many 18 year-olds, Shohei was looking to head to the straight to the big leagues in America, but was drafted out of high school by the Hokkaido Nippon- Ham Fighters regardless of his aspirations to go to the MLB. The Ham Fighters took this risk knowing the young star may never play for them, but after a period of negotiations, Ohtani agreed to stay in Japan for the time being.
He made his professional debut as an 18 year old with the Ham Fighters and was selected as an all star for the Pacific League in 2013. He started 51 games in right field and had 11 starts on the mound going 3-0 as a rookie. The last player to be drafted as a two way player in Japan was Kikuo Tokunaga in 1951. In his time in the NPB he was a 5x All Star, a Japanese Series Champion, Pacific League MVP among various other awards to round out a quality career in Japan…all by the age of 23.
In December of 2017, Shohei “Shotime” Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels and won the 2018 Rookie of the Year Award in the MLB after amassing 22 home runs, a .285 batting average, 61 RBIs and 10 stolen bases, while going 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA. He was in great company with baseball legend, Babe Ruth, as one of the only people to hit over 20 homers with 10 pitching appearances.
2019 was still a quality season for the young Japanese star, but was riddled with injuries, coming back from Tommy John Surgery and ended his season early with a separate knee surgery which cost him about 1/3 of the season. He played 106 games and batted .286 with 18 long balls and 62 RBIs. With 2020 being shortened by the pandemic, the stats skewed pretty negatively for the Angels two way player.
2021 has been an entirely different story and Shotime is truly earning his nickname after signing a 2-year, $8.5 Million contract to start the year. In just 81 games so far, he’s already hit 30 homers before the All Star break. He’s the first pitcher to ever be elected to a Home Run Derby and will likely light things up at Coors Field in Colorado come the All Star Festivities on July 12th.