Reports had him hitting 100 mph with his fastball, up from 97 in his last throwing session. Considering only one of his 80 pitches in the majors last year reached 97, it's no surprise manager Joe Maddon says Ohtani looks better now than he did at any point in 2020, when he was still trying to regain a feel for pitching coming off Tommy John surgery.
"Pitching-wise, his arm stroke is much better," Maddon said. "I thought he was pushing the ball last year, but now he's in a better slot."
Of course, velocity wasn't the biggest issue for Ohtani in his comeback attempt last year. He threw only 50 percent of his pitches for strikes, issuing eight walks in 1 2/3 innings. The control issues were evident from as early as spring training, which is why his work in exhibition games will still count for more than anything he does in a side session.
But early reports are encouraging for a player whose rehabilitation could have been handled better during a season in which nothing went according to plan. Though his two-way status gives him Fantasy appeal either way, his greatest potential for impact is on the mound. In 10 starts before the injury, remember, he was living up to his ace profile with a 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 11.0 K/9.
Some other tidbits from around spring training:
- Austin Meadows kicked things off Sunday by homering over the right field fence, and while there was nothing impressive about the home run itself, it was representative of a change he made in the offseason, losing 10-15 pounds after feeling slow and heavy last season. "I feel like I'm able to get to balls quicker and better when it comes to inside pitches," he said. It's all the more reason he's a bounce-back candidate after a year in which he battled COVID and a strained oblique.
- Trey Mancini, stepping up to the plate for the first time after last year's bout with colon cancer, got nice ovation from the crowd and then hit a single. "It was a goosebumps moment," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said of the ovation. "It was really cool. Hats off to all the fans who were here." A strong spring performance would likely send Mancini's stock skyrocketing given that he hit .291 with 35 homers and an .899 OPS when last healthy in 2019.
- Tigers shortstop Willi Castro had the most impressive home run Sunday, hitting a 458-foot blast to center field. He was a surprise down the stretch last year, hitting .349 with six homers and a .932 OPS in 129 at-bats, and while his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate both left much to be desired, they may not tell the whole story. "The ball sounds a little different off his bat, in a good way," manager A.J. Hinch said. "And he's got some interesting characteristics on how he hits the ball hard."
- MacKenzie Gore struck out three of the seven batters he faced in an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday, throwing in the mid-to-high 90s and featuring a sharp curveball. The top prospect struggled with command at the alternate training site last year and didn't debut as expected, but he can position himself for an early call-up this year with a strong spring. "He's come in with a purpose," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "The ball's coming out of his hand with explosiveness. He's worked on some things breaking ball-wise and gotten some better spin on the curveball. As he gets some innings in, the changeup is going to play really well. I think it's going to be exciting to watch."
- Red Sox prospect Jeter Downs hit an opposite-field home run in his first at-bat of spring training Sunday. He later hit a single to the opposite field. The former Dodgers prospect, who came over with Alex Verdugo in the Mookie Betts deal, is expected to take over as the team's second baseman at some point this season. He had 24 homers and 24 steals in the minors two years ago, reaching base at a .362 clip.
- Jorge Polanco revealed that he was playing through pain in his right ankle last season, requiring surgery on it for a second straight offseason, but he's feeling healthy now and walked twice in his spring debut Sunday. Formerly a shortstop, he's in line to gain eligibility at second base this year and is a prime bounce-back candidate after slumping to a .258 batting average and .658 OPS last year, still profiling for a high batting average with his elite strikeout and line-drive rates.
- Myles Straw, who's already in line to claim George Springer's old job in center field, is also auditioning to bat leadoff for the Astros and went 2 for 2 in his first chance Sunday. He's of interest in Fantasy mostly because of his steals potential (he swiped 70 bags one year in the minors), but he also reached base at a .394 clip over five minor-league seasons, making him potentially a run-scoring machine at the top of that lineup. Of course, with no power to speak of, he'll need to mount some kind of threat at the plate and, hence, has been working with hitting coaches Alex Cintron and Troy Snitker to refine his swing plane.
- Garrett Cooper got the first start at first base, where he and Jesus Aguiar are expected to split time this year. Because Cooper is also capable of playing the outfield, he's the better bet for at-bats of the two, both of whom have fringe mixed-league appeal.
- Toolsy prospect Jazz Chisholm got the start Sunday and homered to the opposite field. Isan Diaz, his primary competition for the Marlins second base job, went 0 for 2 with a strikeout. Chisholm is the one with more upside, which might actually make him the more likely choice to begin the year in the minors, especially since his plate discipline still leaves much to be desired. Jon Berti is in the second base mix as well.
- Jose Altuve has changed his throwing mechanics after making four throwing errors in the postseason. A stretch like that can mess with a second baseman's head to the point he's unable to play the position anymore, with famous examples including Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch, but the Astros don't think Altuve's situation is quite so dire. "He feels really good where he's at. I just don't think it was a big deal," bench coach Joe Espada said. "He started thinking about some throwing issues, but right now he's on track."
- Rowdy Tellez got two hits, including a double, in his start at DH Sunday. While Randal Grichuk is in need of at-bats as well, Tellez's playing time may actually be pretty secure, at least against right-handers, given that the only other left handed-hitter in the Blue Jays lineup is Cavan Biggio. Tellez had an .886 OPS in limited play last year, showing a greatly improved strikeout rate.
- Gleyber Torres, who doubled in two at-bats Sunday, has shown up to camp in better shape than last year, when he said he had trouble preparing "because everything was closed." The 24-year-old slumped to a .243 batting average and .724 OPS last year after hitting a combined .275 with an .849 OPS in his first two seasons. "I didn't feel comfortable when I went to home plate during the short spring or the regular season," he said. "I was trying to fix too many things. People didn't know that."
- Andres Gimenez got the first start at shortstop over Amed Rosario and collected two hits, including a triple. Manager Terry Francona sounded pretty jacked about it. "I know two hits on Feb. 28 doesn't make a player, but it's fun to watch and see him hit the ball," Francona said. "And not to just settle for a double, but take the triple." Gimenez and Rosario came over together in the Francisco Lindor deal and may be forced to split at-bats, but Gimenez's superior steals potential makes him the one to root for here.
- Nick Castellanos, who fell short of his breakthrough potential in his first season with the Reds last year, going on to hit .225 after a ridiculous first couple weeks, says he was pressing during the short season. "Usually those little spells where nothing's falling are easy to ignore, but then when you look up and you only have 17 games left, you know?" he said. "To say that I didn't pay attention to it or I wanted to do really well? Or I tried to do too much? I'd be lying." One reason there's still so much optimism surrounding Castellanos this year is because his Statcast numbers -- namely, the .273 xBA and .542 xSLG -- made him out to be one of the season's biggest underachievers. "I'm sure if we had 162 games, man, my numbers would have been right where they normally are," he said.
- Athletics pitching prospect Daulton Jefferies struck out Mookie Betts on three pitches, throwing seven of his nine pitches for strikes in a perfect inning of work. He's an intriguing prospect despite a rough debut last September, striking out 93 while walking just nine over 79 innings in the minors two years ago, and should get a shot in the starting rotation at some point this year.
- Batting cleanup for the Royals, Salvador Perez picked up where he left off with two hits and a homer. His track record and role suggest he's the safest bet for both home runs and RBI at the catcher position even if it's possible his .333 batting average was as much as 100 points too high.
- Willie Calhoun got the first start in left field, where he's expected to play some this season, but his playing time still figures to come mostly at DH, where he'll compete with Khris Davis for at-bats. It sounds like Chris Woodward may have a rooting interest, though, and it's not for a platoon. "I want Willie to be the Willie Calhoun we saw a couple years ago, when it didn't matter who's out there pitching them," Woodward said. "He was able to adjust and adapt whether it was left- or right[-handed pitching], so he can get back to that form. I'm going to give him every opportunity to do that." After a down year that was sidetracked early by a fractured jaw, Calhoun worked this offseason with hitting guru Doug Latta, who was responsible for Justin Turner's breakthrough years ago and Hunter Pence's resurgence more recently.
- In an era when hitters are generally looking to elevate the ball, new Royals acquisition Andrew Benintendi is selling out for batting average, focusing on leveling his swing path this offseason, according to MLB.com. "For a player like me, obviously I'm not a huge guy, so I don't have to really worry too much about power," Benintendi said. "And I think that's going back to like 2018, where if it goes out, cool." Benintendi was at the top of his game in 2018, hitting .290 with 16 homers, 21 steals and an .830 OPS, but he's not so fleet of foot these days and won't amount to much in Fantasy if he falls shy of 20 homers again.
- White Sox prospect Andrew Vaughn, who's the favorite for the DH opening, batted cleanup Sunday and walked twice. "I don't have a crystal ball about whether he's on the squad April 1, but he's going to get a lot of opportunities to play his way on to this team," manager Tony La Russa said. "Today was the kind of start you expected. Really good at-bats."
- Trent Grisham got to bat leadoff with a lefty on the mound Sunday, which is something the Padres rarely allowed him to do down the stretch last season, typically dropping him to ninth in those games. He did perform competently against left-handers last year, batting .267 with a .750 OPS, though the strikeout rate was cause for concern. The more often he bats high in the lineup, the better for his Fantasy value.
- In his first appearance Stateside, Ha-seong Kim started at DH while Jake Cronenworth manned second base. Kim went 0 for 2, but with two hard-hit balls to the outfield. If the KBO star proves deserving of regular playing time as expected, the Padres will have to get creative finding at-bats for both him and Cronenworth, possibly by giving each some looks in the outfield. It's not shaping up to be an everyday situation for either, though.
- Mitch Garver had a single and a walk in his spring debut. The strikeouts will be something to watch for him after his rate ballooned to 45.7 percent while he was contending with an oblique injury last year.
- Dylan Moore, who started at second base, reached twice and stole a base. He figures to get regular at-bats somewhere after his surprising breakthrough last year, though Shed Long will compete with him for looks at second base.
So which Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.