Two-way Japanese star, 22, is a power-hitting DH with a 100 mph fastball
By Quinn Roberts
Shohei Ohtani doesn't think he's worthy of comparisons to the great Babe Ruth, but the Japanese star could soon be the best two-way player in the big leagues since the Bambino himself.
During an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" that is set to air Sunday, the 22-year-old slugger and fireballer hinted that he'd like to sign with a Major League team next season -- despite the fact that he'd be leaving millions of dollars on the table by signing before the age of 25. His Japanese team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, told CBS that they'd allow Ohtani to negotiate with a big league club after this season.
Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the annual team spending pool on international players is capped, with the maximum allowed coming in at just around $10 million. Only those players who are at least 25 with at least six seasons of experience in foreign professional leagues are exempt from the pool.
If Ohtani waited until he is 25 or a free agent in 2020, it is believed in many baseball circles that he could be the first Japanese player to sign a contract worth more than $200 million.
"Personally, I don't care how much I get paid or how much less I get paid because of this," Ohtani told CBS.
The three-time Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star selection batted .322 with 22 home runs and a 1.004 OPS in 382 plate appearances over 104 games with the Fighters last season. He also posted a 1.86 ERA with 174 strikeouts in 140 innings.
A right ankle injury he suffered last fall kept Ohtani out of the World Baseball Classic, and it has limited him to a DH role thus far, but it certainly hasn't hampered his production at the plate this season. Through five games, he's gone 10-for-20 (.500) with four doubles, two homers and three RBIs.
A rare two-way star with tremendous power at the plate and a fastball that has been clocked at more than 100 mph, Ohtani could be the most sought-after player to come from Japan -- and not just because of his skills on the diamond.
In addition to the bonus-pool limits, the posting fee -- the money paid by big league clubs to Japanese teams in exchange for for exclusive negotiating rights -- has been capped at $20 million since December 2013. By contrast, the Rangers paid a posting fee of $51.7 million to negotiate with Yu Darvish in December 2011 before signing him to a six-year, $60 million contract.
As for the comparsons to baseball's most famous two-way player, Ohtani thinks he's more of a combination of Bryce Harper and a right-handed Clayton Kershaw than he is the second coming of the Sultan of Swat.
"[Ruth] is like a mythical character to me," said Ohtani, who would like to be given the opportunity to pitch and hit in the big leagues. "Because it's such a long time ago and he was God to baseball, I shouldn't be compared to him."
"I actually do see myself [in Harper and Kershaw]," he added.
Quinn Roberts is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.