Shohei Ohtani (sometimes also spelt Otani) is a Japanese professional baseball player who is currently affiliated with Major League Baseball (MLB) team Los Angeles Angels. A rare talent, he is equally dominant at pitching and hitting and is often dubbed as Japan’s Babe Ruth. Ohtani was introduced to the sport by his father, and soon the incredible speed of his fast ball drew both domestic and international attention. Initially, he wanted to go the United States right after finishing school, skipping the Japanese draft, but the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball’s (NPB) Pacific League aggressively courted him. He eventually relented and became their first pick in the 2012 draft. Ohtani would play the next five seasons for the Fighters and would lead them to the Pacific League Championship and Japan Series title in 2016. He has also won several personal accolades and is the current holder of the record of throwing the fastest pitch by a Japanese pitcher and in NPB history at 102.5 mph. At the international level, he was a member of the bronze-winning Japanese team at the 2015 WBSC Premier 12 championship. In December 2017, he finally came to the US as a contracted player for the Los Angeles Angels.
Childhood & Early Life
Ohtani was born on July 5, 1994, in Ōshū, Iwate, Japan as the youngest of three children. His father, Toru, who was a corporate league baseball player and an employee at the local Mitsubishi plant, encouraged both Ohtani and his older brother Ryuta to play the game. He quickly showed a lot of promise and by the time he turned eight, he was a regular in a weekend little league. His mother was an athlete as well, a national-level badminton player during in high school.
In his youth, Ohtani was inspired by power-hitting left fielder Hideki Matsui, who used to play for Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants, the only team he watched on television growing up. He was equally fascinated by pitching, but never considered the sport to be anything more than a hobby.
It was at Hanamaki Higashi High School where he studied, that his capability first drew attention. At only 16 years of age, he was throwing in the mid-90s and it took him only a year more to reach 99 mph. Capitalising on his big built—he was six-foot-five when he was 17—he was becoming a dynamic player. However, his rapid growth also resulted in groin and hamstring injuries that bothered him throughout high school.
During this period, his pitching mechanics posed some issues. He could not keep himself in the strike zone as his delivery had become effortful and stiff. The problems eventually went away as he gradually grew into his body.
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In the early stages of his career, Shohei Ohtani registered the record of the fastest pitch by a Japanese high school pitcher at 99 mph. He participated in the 2012 18U Baseball World Championship and at the end of the competition, he had the impressive record of 0-1 win-loss with 16 strikeouts, eight walks, five hits, five runs, and a 4.35 earned run average in total 10 1⁄3 innings pitched.
He had made up the decision to go to the US to play in the major leagues after high school. Subsequently, he was at the receiving end of much interest from some of the biggest baseball clubs in the world, including the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
He made his intention of relocating to the US and playing there public on October 21, 2012. However, the Nippon-Ham Fighters under the leadership of their general manager Masao Yamada took a huge risk by choosing him as their first draft pick anyway and spent the next few weeks convincing him to stay in Japan. Among other things, they pointed out that if he stayed in Japan he would not have go through the grind of the US minor leagues and instead, would be able to spend his formative years as a player in MPB, where he could earn millions from a litany of endorsement deals as well as be hailed as a national hero.
He accepted the Fighters’ offer after much consideration, and debuted at 18 as a rightfielder in the Fighters’ first game of the season on March 29, 2013. He had an incredibly successful first year in MPB, garnering a record of 3-0 in 11 starts at the end of the season.
Assigned the jersey number (11) previously worn by legendary Yu Darvish, he was used by the Fighters as a rookie in both outfield and at pitcher. His performance throughout the season both as a batter and pitcher earned him a Pacific League roster spot for the 2013 All-Star Game.
In the next two seasons, Ohtani solidified his position in the team. He continued to be both outfielder and pitcher, while simultaneously improving his batting. He was voted into the All-Star Game in these two seasons as well and by the end of 2014, his salary had reached 100 million yen a year.
The 2016 season was the best one in his career to date. It was his breakout season as a batter and he maintained the same dominance on the mound as the years before. Ohtani played a pivotal role in the Fighters reaching the 2016 Japan Series and then winning the championship four games to two against Hiroshima Toyo Carp. At the end of the season, he became the runaway winner of the MVP award, accumulating 253 out of a total of 254 first-place votes.
In 2017, he appeared in 65 games and recorded a hitting average of .332 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs while pitching 3-2, 3.20 with 29 strikeouts. It was later reported that he was going to ask to be posted when the season ends so he could be available for the 2018 MLB season. However, he had to undergo an operation for an ankle injury that he had originally sustained in 2016 and it cut short his playing time in the year.
He became the newest addition to the Los Angles Angels roster on December 8, 2017. The contract was finalised a day after that.
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Shohei Ohtani attended the 2015 WBSC Premier 12 as part of the Japanese national team. Held in Japan and Taiwan from November 8 to 21, the tournament was eventually won by South Korea, with the US coming in second, and Japan the third. Ohtani ended the series with the lowest earned run average of the tournament.
He was included in Japan’s 28-man roster for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, but had to drop out after suffering the ankle injury.
Awards & Achievements
Shohei Ohtani is a two-time Pacific League Pitcher Best Nine (2015 and 2016). He also won the Designated Hitter Best Nine in 2016, making him the first player in NPB’s history to win both Pitcher and Hitter awards.
He was picked as the Pacific League Era Leader in 2015.
Ohtani shared the Pacific League Battery Award with Shoto Ono in 2015.
Also in 2015, he was crowned the WBSC Player of the Year.
In 2016, he received the Nippon Professional Most Valuable Player Award for an all-around stellar season.
He made it to the NPB All-Star Game four times (2013-16).
As a child, Shohei Ohtani was what Japanese would consider a ‘yakyu shonen’, which means a kid who lives, eats, and breathes baseball. That hasn’t changed after all these years. He is still a humble and charming boy from the country on whom fame and fortune have little effect.
He lets his parents take care of his finances. In an effort to develop financial maturity in him, his mother puts about $1,000 every month in his personal bank account, but according to reports, he rarely makes use of it.
Ohtani’s current sports agent is Nez Balelo of CAA Baseball.