Daniels in Japan to see two-way star Ohtani

Daniels in Japan to see two-way star Ohtani

ARLINGTON -- Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is in Japan on a scouting trip to watch Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters pitcher Shohei Ohtani. It is similar to a scouting trip Daniels took in 2011 that eventually led the Rangers to signing pitcher Yu Darvish.

Daniels was seen with assistant general manager Josh Boyd and scouts Joe Furukawa and Hajime Watabe at a Fighters game. Ohtani is on the disabled list, but the Rangers were able to watch him work out.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister has seen Ohtani only through a segment on the television show 60 Minutes. He has seen enough to be intrigued.

"This is a premier athlete that's a baseball player who plays in Japan for a championship team," Banister said. "Very engaging, with a passion to play the game."

Daniels' most important mission is to lay the groundwork for potential offseason negotiations if Ohtani becomes a free agent and heads to the United States. That was the primary purpose of Daniels' trip to Japan in 2011. Nothing is official yet, but the Fighters are expected to let Ohtani play in the United States and collect the $20 million posting fee from the team that signs him.

Ohtani is considered a special talent because not only is he an outstanding pitcher with a fastball that has been clocked in excess of 100 mph, but he is also a great hitter. He has been called the Babe Ruth of Japan for being able to do both.

Playing for the Japan League-champion Fighters last year, Ohtani was 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 21 games while striking out 174 in 140 innings. He also hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBIs in 323 at-bats as a designated hitter. He has not yet pitched this season because of a strained left thigh/hamstring muscle, and he missed the World Baseball Classic because of an ankle injury.

"He is definitely a talented individual," said Rangers reliever Tony Barnette, who pitched in Japan. "He's got 100 [mph] in the tank, and he can swing it from the left side. He is a guy who can help a team win."

Ohtani could be a rare star

Banister said it could be possible for Ohtani to both hit and pitch in the United States. Banister pointed to Pat Venditte, who made the Major Leagues as a pitcher who can throw both left- and right-handed.

"I never thought I would see that," Banister said. "From what I've seen from the video, Ohtani throws 100, hits it a mile and runs well. I'm sure somebody said Bo Jackson couldn't play both sports, or Deion Sanders. I never say no to athletes."

Banister said there would be some challenges for Ohtani to pitch every fifth day and then be used as a hitter between starts.

"One of the things you have to take into consideration once a pitcher goes out and pitches: Where is their energy level and recovery?" Banister said. "We play in the AL, so the DH type of situation, you could manage it. It's the overall energy level in between."

Being in the American League would give the Rangers one advantage in the pursuit of Ohtani. Another possible edge is that he's also close friends with Darvish. However, Darvish is also a free agent this offseason.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.