The success of Angels righthanded pitcher/lefthanded hitter Shohei Ohtani has certainly left other major leaguers wondering what might have been had they entered the league as a two-way player.
The Red Sox’ Mitch Moreland was a highly touted first baseman and lefthanded pitcher while at Mississippi State. He was drafted by the Rangers in the 17th round in 2007.
“Anything that would help me get to the big leagues faster would have been a good opportunity,” said Moreland, who has pitched in four games as a professional, all in mopup duty. “It definitely doubles your chances. If [one position’s] not working, maybe the other one does. That would be a cool deal.
“Teams looked at me as a pitcher. Two teams looked at me to hit; Texas was one of them and they drafted me and I just made the most of it.”
Conventional wisdom has always been that a player talented enough to both hit and pitch in the majors would ultimately have to choose one over the other. There was rarely any thought of someone doing both.
Former Red Sox prospects Casey Kelly and Frankie Rodriguez are among the few examples. Both played shortstop and pitched when they were drafted. Kelly, the Red Sox’ first-round pick in 2008, only played both positions in one minor league season, his second. He has struggled with arm problems and is currently with the Braves’ Triple A team. Rodriguez, the Sox’ second-round pick in 1990, never played both positions in the same season, but he did pitch for seven years in the majors.
Baseball executives think Ohtani is a one-of-a-kind player.
Entering Friday, Ohtani was hitting .346 with three homers, 11 RBIs, and a 1.183 OPS in 26 at-bats as a DH, and also was 2-0 as a starter with a 2.08 ERA, 18 strikeouts, only 2 walks, and an MLB-best 0.462 WHIP in 13 innings. His fastball averages 99 miles per hour, and he has a nasty splitter and wipeout slider.
The Red Sox will see Ohtani when they visit the Angels for three games this week, but they won’t face Ohtani, who’s scheduled to pitch against the Royals on Sunday.
“I think Ohtani is a unique individual,” said Orioles general manager Dan Duquette. “You’re not going to see too many players like that. But I would think teams would start to look at players a little differently, maybe take more chances with a kid who may have the ability as a pitcher and a hitter. At least more than we’ve seen in the past.”
Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, who pursued Ohtani in the offseason, said of the 23-year-old Japanese star, “It takes a special talent to pull it off, which he obviously is.”
Orioles reliever Mychal Givens was an outstanding shortstop and pitcher in high school. He was strictly an infielder in his first three seasons in the minors, switched to pitching in 2013, and debuted with the Orioles two years later. Cal Ripken Jr. was drafted by the Orioles as a pitcher in 1978, but he never took the mound as a professional.
Nationals adviser Ron Rizzi said the best two-way players he’s seen are Rick Ankiel and Josh Hamilton. He described Hamilton as having “electric stuff” as a pitcher and someone who could have been a front-line starter as well as a five-tool position player. Ankiel was a major league pitcher and outfielder, but never both in the same season.
Former Red Sox pitcher Ken Brett probably could have been a big league outfielder as well.
The Rays’ top draft pick in 2017, fourth overall selection Brendan McKay, has been used as both a first baseman and pitcher in Single A. Last season with Hudson Valley of the New York-Penn League, McKay hit .232 with four homers and 22 RBIs in 36 games, and also posted a 1.80 ERA and 0.750 WHIP in six starts, holding batters to a .149 average.
McKay, a lefthanded pitcher, said he’s been a two-way player all his life. As he climbs the minor league ladder, the task will become tougher.
Ohtani put up poor numbers in spring training — hitting just .125 and allowing eight earned runs in 2⅔ innings — and some scouts wondered whether he could pull it off in the majors.
Now that Ohtani has gotten used to the speed of the major leagues, he’s proven that he can.
Ohtani has asked Angels manager Mike Scioscia to play him more, as he would love to be used at first base or in the outfield. Those who studied his defense in Japan say Ohtani is a talented enough defender to handle center field.
The Angels have limited him to DH to reduce his chances of getting injured. As it is now, Ohtani doesn’t play the day before he pitches and the day after he pitches. They have also decided that he’ll pitch one day a week — on Sundays — as per his schedule in Japan.
Whether Ohtani, McKay, and other young two-way players can change the sport is anyone’s guess. But Ohtani has created greater interest in the feat. He’s an event when at the plate or on the mound.
And the Red Sox will have to find a way to handle his talents this week.
Could ties be part of MLB’s future?
There are many ideas out there on how to improve pace of play. One is to eliminate extra innings and have games end in a tie.
MLB could award teams two points for a win, one for a tie, and none for a loss. Extra innings would be allowed in the postseason.
Players, for the most part, hate extra innings. It wears them down.
We’ve often talked about increasing the 25-man roster to accommodate the new standard of carrying 12-13 pitchers, which reduces the number of bench players.
Eliminating extra innings would benefit the current system of a 25-man roster.
The Red Sox dominated in extra innings last season, going 15-3 in such contests. There were 182 extra-inning games in the majors last year, an average of 12 per team. The Giants and Blue Jays played the most with 19, the Giants going 12-7 and the Blue Jays 5-14. The Red Sox were second with 18. The Tigers played the fewest with five, going 1-4.
“I don’t like ties,” said Red Sox utilityman Brock Holt. “But when you play 19 innings, you’re like, ‘Let’s get thing over with,’ but we’ve been good in extra innings.
“I don’t think any player will tell you they enjoy playing extras. Nine innings is long enough. Start adding those innings on and it wears on you as the season goes on. I don’t think anyone likes them.”
The minor leagues changed their extra-inning rules this season by starting each half-inning with a runner on second base.
The Pawtucket Red Sox went into extras in their third game of the season and lost, 4-3, to Buffalo in 12 innings. The game took 4 hours, 1 minute.
“Baseball is baseball. It’s been the same way for how many years? When you start adding new things into it it’s not the same anymore,” said Holt. “I think it’s entertaining if I were playing a video game. But we play nine innings. We grind out at-bats for the length of the game. But when you just put someone on base, it’s like flipping a coin. We’re putting a guy on second and we can lose the game. I know it’s the same for both teams, but I don’t like it.”
Apropos of nothing
1. The vote on whether to rename Yawkey Way was postponed by the city’s Public Improvement Commission last week. Let’s just call it The Street To Be Named Later.
2. Now that the Nationals have given GM Mike Rizzo a new three-year, $12 million deal, isn’t it time for their Beltway rivals, the Orioles, to do the same for Dan Duquette?
3. It was fascinating to watch Drew Pomeranz sign about one hundred baseballs in the Red Sox clubhouse, and do it with his right hand. Other than pitch with his left hand, Pomeranz does everything righthanded. Fellow lefty Brian Johnson said that he also does everything righthanded, except pitch. Asked whether he could pitch righthanded, Pomeranz said he probably could.
4. Yes, there were only 6,150 fans at the Marlins-Mets game at Marlins Park last Wednesday. The three-game series drew 19,669.
5. MLB Network’s Elliot Kalb points out there have been six plate appearances of 12 or more pitches this season. Thirteen pitches: Josh Harrison vs. Tyler Mahle and Trevor Story vs. Fernando Salas. Twelve pitches: Andrew McCutchen vs. Wilmer Font, Aaron Altherr vs. Chris O’Grady, Austin Hedges vs. Chris Stratton, and Ozzie Albies vs. Enny Romero.
Updates on nine
1. Blake Swihart, utilityman, Red Sox — The Mets are down their top two catchers — Travis d’Arnaud needs Tommy John surgery and Kevin Plawecki has a broken hand — so they may be looking for help. Youngster Tomas Nido gets the chance to be the No. 1, with Jose Lobaton backing him up. Sandy Leon and Swihart might be targeted by the Mets. Swihart hasn’t caught yet this season but he did play nine games at the position during the exhibition season.
2. J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins — Realmuto, who has yet to play this season, would appeal to a lot of teams (like the Mets) and he’s the Marlins’ best trade chip to acquire a good package of prospects. Righty Dan Straily won’t bring as much in return, nor would second baseman Starlin Castro or first baseman Justin Bour.
3. Bryce Brentz, OF, Mets — The former Red Sox slugger was cut by the Pirates after a poor spring training and the Mets wisely picked him up. Brentz is a notoriously slow starter. He entered Friday 3 for 24 (.125) with nine strikeouts at Triple A Las Vegas. Brentz hit 31 homers for the PawSox last season. The Red Sox didn’t call him up in September and then surprisingly added him to the 40-man roster over the winter. They traded him to Pittsburgh in spring training.
4. John Farrell, pitching adviser, Reds — With the Reds off to a 2-10 start, there’s already speculation about Farrell being a leading candidate to replace Bryan Price as manager. One Reds employee who would want the job — special assistant Barry Larkin.
5. Howie Kendrick, 2B, Nationals — Kendrick is a perfect example of why Mike Rizzo is such an outstanding GM. Kendrick was passed over by a lot of teams in free agency. With Daniel Murphy (knee surgery) starting the year on the DL, Kendrick is filling in at second and was batting .349 entering Friday. Rizzo also just signed first baseman Mark Reynolds, who hit 30 homers for Colorado last season, to a minor league contract with Ryan Zimmerman in a 4-for-39 slump to start the year.
6. Yoan Moncada, 2B, White Sox — Moncada, 22, simply hasn’t adapted to the majors. Through Thursday, Moncada was hitting .184 and had struck out a major league-high 24 times in 49 at-bats. White Sox manager Rick Renteria told reporters that Moncada had been pulling his head up rather than keeping it down through his swing. Moncada hit just .231 with 74 strikeouts in 199 at-bats last season.
7. Sam Travis, 1B, Red Sox — Travis’s success at Triple A Pawtucket is definitely tied into how close Hanley Ramirez will come to attaining the 497 plate appearances he needs to kick in a $22 million vesting option for 2019. Travis started 4 for 20 at Pawtucket after a sizzling spring training.
8. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers — Whenever Cabrera slumps, there’s speculation as to whether he’s washed up. He took a 4-for-27 slide into Friday, but, no, Cabrera’s not done yet. He better not be for the Tigers’ sake, as they have to pay him $30 million a year through 2021 and then $32 million for the next two years after that.
9. Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber, RHPs, Indians — Along with Jose Berrios, Max Scherzer, and Jameson Taillon, they are the only pitchers with complete games this year entering Friday.
From the Bill Chuck files — “In Giancarlo Stanton’s first 52 Yankee PAs, he hit three homers and struck out 22 times. In 2016, in his first 14 games, he hit .208 with three homers, 10 RBIs, and 21 strikeouts in 53 at-bats. In 2017, in his first 14 games, he hit .226 with 3 HRs and 8 RBIs with 19 strikeouts in 53 at-bats.” . . . Also, “Keep in mind that Marlins president and CEO Derek Jeter never played on a team with more than 73 losses, the 2014 Yankees.” . . . Happy birthday, Ted Sizemore (73).