2018 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Shohei Ohtani has been terrible in spring training, so now what do we do?

I am not the guys who gets left behind in steals. I've designed my rankings to make sure of it. Until this time.

There's a lot of noise out there about Shohei Ohtani right now. Lot of noise.

And I wouldn't dare classify it as anything more given how little there is to know.

I can say this much with certainty: He has been awful this spring. As a hitter, he's 2 for 24 with nine strikeouts. As a pitcher, he has allowed eight earned runs on three home runs in 2 2/3 innings. His numbers look like what we see when a hitter tries to pitch ... or a pitcher tries to hit.

He is of course both trying to do both and thus far succeeding at neither, which is a funny way of putting it given that spring performance are built on the tiniest of samples in the least competitive of environments and, in most cases, better off ignored.

But baseball purists are delighting in the presumed failure, raining down I-told-you-sos with a ferocity normally reserved for election years.

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Shohei Ohtani LAA • SP • 17
2016 Japan, as pitcher
ERA1.86
WHIP.96
IP140
BB45
K174

To their credit, Ohtani and the Angels as a whole have remained steadfast, projecting a quiet confidence and trust in whatever process they've put in place for this sort of adjustment.

"Of course I believe I'm still going to have good results," Ohtani recently told MLB.com through an interpreter. "I believe in myself and I'll keep on working hard every day and the results will follow." 

And manager Mike Sciocia? Well, that depends if he's assessing him as a pitcher ...

"I think Shohei is very close," Scioscia said. "There are some things he's very close on and is working on. We're paying a lot of attention this week to getting him to where he needs to be. When he gets back out there, hopefully we'll get the results that he's looking for." 

Or a hitter ...

"He's getting there. He's making progress, for sure," Scioscia said. "He just needs to get his timing right.

"He's confident he's going to find it, just as we're confident he's going to find it."  

But then there's the other side of the coin, the eight scouts who Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports recently interviewed. They aren't as invested as the Angels are and aren't as inclined to see what they want to see.

To them, the hitting is the biggest issue.

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Shohei Ohtani LAA • SP • 17
2017 Japan, as hitter
BA.332
HR8
OPS.942
AB202
K63

"He's basically like a high school hitter because he's never seen a good curveball," one scout said. "He's seen fastballs and changeups. And you're asking a high school hitter to jump to the major leagues?" 

"You don't learn on the job in the major leagues," another said. "You can't."

It's worth noting the Angels have identified some of the same issues at the plate, namely Ohtani's vulnerability to inside fastballs (shown below), which are something he rarely saw in Japan. It's just that the Angels are more optimistic he can figure out these issues.

"He's up there battling," hitting coach Eric Hinske said. "He's trying to put a good swing on the ball. I'm trying to get him to just shorten it up a bit, shorten his leg kick a little so he can get to stuff inside. Just start looking for stuff, so he can clear his lower half and get to the pitch." 

Still, because Ohtani's hitting has so much ground to make up, there's some concern it will hold back his pitching, whether by keeping it in the minors to begin the year or by distracting him from some of the adjustments he should be making on that side, such as learning the new strike zone and how to grip a larger ball.   

And maybe the pessimists will ultimately be right. The reason we don't see two-way players at the major-league level is because each side of the game is so difficult on its own, and then when you consider Ohtani is also having to adjust to the U.S. style of play, you wonder why the Angels would even let him attempt it.

Still, I can't help but think some of the recent pessimism is typical spring training BS. We're all prisoners of the moment, and time and time again when I see anonymous scouts cited somewhere, they're just as susceptible to that particular bias as any of us. Notice these kinds of reports weren't coming out when teams were tripping over themselves to sign Ohtani this winter or even when the hype began to build last year in Japan. Everyone wants to be the smart guy, and these earliest returns were sure to invite the naysayers.

But their concerns have some validity, particularly the one about his hitting struggles holding back his pitching, and so for the purposes of 2018 drafts, I'm changing my approach to him in three ways:

1. I'm forgetting about his dual eligibility.

The two-way possibility is fun and absolutely has to be represented in CBS Sports leagues, but I had a feeling it wouldn't come into play much in weekly leagues, where choosing between the stats of a full-time pitcher and a part-time hitter seemed like no choice at all. Now, though, even in daily leagues, I'm thinking you won't want what he offers at the plate. If he gets to the point where you do, it's a nice bonus, but you shouldn't draft him with that intention.

2. I'm assuming he'll be of no use to me in the beginning.

Yeah, it's kind of another draft-and-stash situation, sort of like Ronald Acuna. In Ohtani's case, it's not necessarily because he'll begin the year in the minors -- though many have suggested he would benefit from such a move and the Angels haven't completely ruled it out -- but more because, if he does stick around, you can't have a lot of confidence in what he'll provide. One brilliant start -- whether in spring training or the majors -- would go a long way toward relieving our concerns, but if he gets stuck working on his hitting in the minors, it may be weeks before we see it.

3. I'm lowering him in my rankings.

Kind of have to, right? Even without considering Items 1 and 2, just the fact people are losing faith means you should be able to get Ohtani later. His ADP in in NFBC leagues was 74th until this weekend, when he went 99th on average -- still too early if you ask me, but possibly the start of a trend. I've had him 122nd in Rotisserie leagues, up there with Lance McCullers and Rich Hill, but now that I'm assuming he won't hit the ground running, the Trevor Bauer-Mike Clevinger range, about 150th, seems more appropriate.

Obviously, a keeper scenario changes the valuation, and the last thing you should take from this piece is that Ohtani is a bust in the making. He's a 23-year-old who spent the past four years -- as in, beginning at age 19 -- dominating a league where we've already seen bunches of players translate their success to the majors. And by dominating, I mean a 1.86 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings in his last full season (an ankle injury limited him to five starts in 2017).

The fact he's so young only helps Ohtani's chances while also building in an excuse for easing him into the big leagues through the minors, especially if the Angels stick with the plan of having him DH on his off days. He did strike out eight over 2 2/3 innings against some Brewers minor-leaguers in an unofficial "B" game earlier this spring, so his pitching skills aren't in question. 

The future is still bright. It just may not arrive quite as soon as we all hoped. There are a few kinks to work out first, beginning with whether the two-way plan is really worth the developmental lag.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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