You don’t ever get sick of watching a generational player, or talent. In Major League baseball, it’s rare for one of those players to come around, but when they do, they’re a spectacle. In 2018, Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels has been the talk of the sport. He can pitch and hit at a high level, but injuries, mostly to his elbow, have been holding Ohtani back in his rookie season.
Wednesday afternoon, Ohtani and the Angels’ worst fears became a reality: the right-hander likely needs Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow. It’s a blow for the 24-year-old, the Angels and their fans, and MLB as a whole. Why is it such an incredible loss for MLB? Sure, it’s always a loss for the game when a star player suffers a severe injury, but Ohtani’s elbow woes will make him the last two-way player in baseball.
Every year there are pitchers who are forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. Some of them return and perform at an elite level, while others are never the same. And, let’s face it, the fact that Ohtani is having surgery on his throwing arm is worrisome when you’re talking about him being a two-way player. At the moment, the plan appears to be for him to not pitch next season and resume throwing in 2020.
If Ohtani and the Angels act accordingly with that plan, it’ll essentially give the 24-year-old a full year off from throwing — if he doesn’t play the field. Plus, with the Angels in fourth place in the American League West at 70-72 and likely to miss the playoffs, there’s no reason for them to rush Ohtani back to the hill. But that won’t stop the prodigy from swinging a bat.After the injury to @Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani, @MLB teams might not experiment with a two-way player ever again. Click To Tweet
Thursday night — the day after the news regarding his elbow was released — Ohtani launched two home runs and hit another long ball on Friday night. His career continues to grow into one of the most intriguing, but also bizarre stories in sports. And say, in a hypothetical, that he could never pitch again, Ohtani could still potentially serve as a high-octane bat in the middle of the Angels order. But when you look at his productivity on the hill, it’s impossible for the Angels to just eliminate pitching from his arsenal.
In the 10 starts he’s made this season, Ohtani has garnered the attention of the baseball world. Recording a 3.31 ERA and striking out 63 batters in 51.2 innings, he was giving manager Mike Scioscia viable outings and showcasing the ability to be great. He has a nasty splitter, can hit 100 mph on the radar, and executes his pitches like a seasoned pro.
On the other hand, Ohtani is also an exceptional talent at the plate. Hitting .290 to go along with 19 home runs and 53 RBIs in 84 games, he’s been a reliable source of offense for the Angels. He does need to work on limiting strikeouts (Ohtani has recorded 81 strikeouts this season) and trying to work the count (Ohtani has drawn just 31 walks this season), but, overall, Ohtani is an advanced hitter for his age and can only grow better in the coming years.
Mike Trout and a healthy Ohtani on the same team is MLB’s dream. It’s the best player and the most fascinating player on the same team on the outskirts of Los Angeles. From the Angels’ perspective, the duo of Trout and Ohtani could grow into one of the best one-two hitting punches in the game.
If Ohtani chose to be a positional player who didn’t pitch, he could grow into Bryce Harper. If he chose to solely be a pitcher, he cold grow into Justin Verlander. He’s that gifted in both aspects of the game to the point where he could be a star no matter which direction he chose.
MLB teams are always going to be intrigued with two-way players, or just fascinating players in general, both within and outside of the United States. But the idea that teams will be looking for the next Ohtani is highly unlikely. What you may witness is teams scouting two-way players (if there are any), and seeing if they’d be willing to choose whether to pitch or hit. It may be a daunting decision for a player to make, but if you’re an organization, why would you want to run the risk of someone significantly damaging their health doing two things, when they could just focus on thriving in one area while having a lesser chance of injury doing so?
You can’t control if and when someone is going to get hurt. But when you have someone pitch and hit and heavily rely on them to do so at a high level, there’s a greater chance of injury for the player.
From the get-go, all anyone could think about with Ohtani was him being Babe Ruth 2.0 based on his ability to pitch and hit. No one actually expected Ohtani to become Ruth; the comparison originated from the fact that a two-way player, or someone who is capable of excelling on the mound and at the plate, has been unheard of since the Great Bambino.
Now, could Ohtani resume pitching and be a two-way star if he stays healthy? Sure, but if he restarts that engine, he will have to adjust to simultaneously pitching and hitting at the Major League level once again. If it doesn’t go well, or he’s mediocre in either facet of his game, the Angels could have Ohtani chose whether to pitch or hit for the sake of his health and their ballclub.
The elbow woes won’t end Shohei Ohtani’s MLB career. In fact, he could come back, have his elbow completely healed, and be a perennial All-Star. But, regardless of whether Ohtani is able to pitch in 2020, teams aren’t going to run this big of a risk in a player ever again; it marks the end of MLB’s dream of having multiple, or at least one more two-way star.