Shohei Ohtani has earned plaudits on both the pitching and hitting end basically all spring. But what he did Sunday was so audacious that it hadn't been attempted -- not from a true pitcher, anyway -- since 1901.
He batted leadoff as the starting pitcher.
So how'd that go for him? See for yourself:
The performance was one thing. At the plate, he reached base three times. On the mound, he allowed two hits in four innings, striking out five. Fair to say it worked out a little better than for Jim Jones of the New York Giants 120 years ago.
"We've been working toward this moment," manager Joe Maddon said.
But that the Angels even allowed it is most notable. Maddon has suggested they wouldn't necessarily rely on their old rules for Ohtani -- as in keeping him out of the lineup the day before and the day after he pitches -- but the day of seemed like it went without saying. Still, it sounds like Maddon is willing to let Ohtani set his own terms for how often he hits this year, and here's what the 26-year-old had to say about pulling two-way duty Sunday:
"I would love to do this during the season. If I could get run support for myself, that will give me extra confidence on the mound to be more aggressive."
With Sunday's performance, Ohtani is now batting .636 (14 for 22) with four homers and just two strikeouts. His pitching stats aren't as impressive, but he's hitting 101 mph with his fastball and piling up whiffs with his splitter, both of which were missing last year. Given that high-end starting pitching is the most valuable asset in Fantasy Baseball today, you'd think he'd have the most value in that role, but if these loosened restrictions allow him to get 500 plate appearances, a 25-homer, 20-steal season is on the table, maybe with like a .280 batting average.
It might be tough for you to take that bat out of your lineup, no matter what Ohtani's doing on the mound. Here's the thing, though: If you pick him intending him for one role, you can always fall back on the other, at least in CBS Sports leagues where he's a single dual-eligible player. He's like his own backup plan.
All indications are that he's building up to a special season -- the kind we've dreamed of since he came over from Japan in 2018 -- and it's to the point of him being reach-worthy. I think we just need to ignore the average ADP of 171. I took him 156th in a 15-team league over the weekend and felt lucky to get him there.
Is Shohei Ohtani a cheat code? We also talk Bobby Witt Jr. and more on the Fantasy Baseball Today in 5 Podcast. Keep up with us and everything baseball and subscribe here.
Paxton is back
After a miserable final year with the Yankees in which he battled injuries and diminished stuff, who could say what to expect from James Paxton? He had to settle for an $8.5 million deal from a non-contender this offseason, which would seem to suggest the league as a whole was out on him. And then after he spent his first four turns of the Cactus League schedule working on the backfields, well ... suffice it to say my enthusiasm was at an all-time low.
What could he possibly do to restore it? About what he did in his Cactus League debut Sunday, not only striking out eight of the 16 batters he faced in 4 1/3 innings but also hitting 97 mph on the radar gun. He peaked at 95 last year.
"Last year was tough for me. I didn't have any of the velo, my body wasn't in the right place," he said. "And today, seeing those numbers up on the board just confirmed that I'm back to being myself."
Paxton has set a goal of 170 innings this year, which would be a career high. His longstanding durability issues have me taking the under on that, but if he's still dominating on a start-by-start basis, then he's worth considering among the top 50 starting pitchers.
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Hit the bricks, kid
Less than a week after saying he had a chance to make the club as the starting second baseman, Royals GM Dayton Moore reassigned shortstop prospect Bobby Witt to low Class A on Sunday. The kid is only 20 years old and hadn't advanced passed Rookie ball yet, so it can't come as a total surprise. The quick turnaround is a little discombobulating, but ultimately, the Royals did us a favor by calling it this early, before the biggest draft weekend of the year.
In my mind, Witt probably isn't even one of the top five prospects to stash in re-draft leagues. He may still debut in 2021, but shipping him to low A is acknowledging that he still has a few hurdles to clear. It's not a situation where he'll be up before the end of April, in other words. He has hit .289 (11 for 38) with three home runs and 10 strikeouts during the exhibition season.
Will he or won't he?
Dodgers catcher Will Smith is a popular breakout candidate and the third catcher off the board on average, behind J.T. Realmuto and Salvador Perez. And it's easy to see why given his power potential and reduction in strikeouts last year. But I made the decision last week to remove him from my Breakouts 3.0 column, in part because of concerns over his playing time, and it sounds like it may have been justified ...
Dave Roberts said he projects Will Smith to start "somewhere around 90 games" this season.— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) March 19, 2021
"I think with Will, with Austin, the combo, the sum, is very good and I'll take that sum against any combo in all of baseball, production-wise, offensively, defensively."
Well, that's disconcerting. In fact, I almost don't believe it. Elsewhere, I saw Roberts suggest that 110 games is the goal, and that's more along the lines of what I was thinking. It'll still be enough to make Smith a top-five catcher, in all likelihood, but top 10 might be a stretch.
Updating the closer battles
- Padres right-hander Emilio Pagan may actually be the favorite for saves, according to Kevin Acee of The San Diego Union-Tribune, who says he's the name mentioned most by those in the organization. Right-hander Mark Melancon, who has the most closing experience, and left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who's working his way back from forearm tightness, are also in the mix, but manager Jayce Tingler has said he would prefer for one guy to get the job.
- Amir Garrett struck out the side in Cactus League debut Saturday after missing time with a tight forearm. The left-hander is competing for ninth-inning duties with Lucas Sims, who's scheduled to make his Cactus League debut Tuesday, but it may have been telling that manager David Bell had Garrett pitch the ninth inning Saturday. "He was as good as I've ever seen him, and that's saying a whole lot," Bell said. "Velocity, the breaking ball -- he was just dominating."
- Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel, who has struggled this spring with delivery issues, had better velocity Saturday, hitting 98 mph. He retired all three batters he faced, two on strikeouts and now has two scoreless outings in a row. Kimbrel, who also began 2020 with delivery issues, finished the year on a high note, recording 13 strikeouts to no walks in his final eight appearances, all scoreless.
- Though it was suspected all along, it's closer to being official now: The Blue Jays closer role is Kirby Yates' job to lose, according to pitching coach Pete Walker, who also said projected setup man Jordan Romano "is a closer in the making." Yates, who dominated in 2018 and 2019, struggled early last year before having surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.
- According to The Dallas Morning News, Rangers relievers Matt Bush and Ian Kennedy are competing for saves with Jose Leclerc, whose velocity is down this spring. Of even greater concern is that Leclerc hasn't regained the feel for his "slambio" (a cutter/changeup hybrid) after shoulder surgery last year. "It's not reading out the same," manager Chris Woodward said. "I don't think he's thrown it with the same conviction that he has in the past."
- Pirates right-hander Richard Rodriguez may not be the closer, according to Jake Crouse of MLB.com, who says that manager Derek Shelton prefers him in a setup role. Kyle Crick may be the favorite to begin the year, with David Bednar, who has struck out 13 while allowing two hits in seven innings this spring, looking like a potential option down the line.
Other notes ...
- Rangers third base prospect Josh Jung will have surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot, sidelining him 6-8 weeks. The Rangers don't have a good answer at third base, leading some to speculate that the 23 year-old would get his shot sooner than later. Turns out it'll be later.
- Jake Arrieta has made a change to his delivery that's resulting in more whiffs on the curveball, according to The Athletic. He put it on display in his latest spring start Thursday, striking out five while allowing one earned run in four innings.
- Braves right-hander Ian Anderson, who's still technically a rookie despite making a name for himself in the postseason last year, struck out nine in 4 1/3 innings against the Twins on Friday. He's up to 18 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings this spring.
- Nationals first baseman Josh Bell, who's looking to rebound from last year's short-season debacle, homered in three consecutive games last week to give him four overall. He's batting .367 (11 for 30) with five walks to seven strikeouts.
- Oscar Mercado, who entered spring training as the favorite for the Indians' center field job, was sent to minor-league camp, which might make converted shortstop Amed Rosario the favorite to man center field. Mercado, who broke through with 15 homers and 15 steals in 2019, hit only .128 in 36 games last year and hasn't fared much better this spring. "He needs some time, and when I say 'space,' I mean major-league games hanging over his head to get him back to where he can help us," manager Terry Francona said. "Nobody's giving up on him." As for Rosario, he made three errors in his first appearance in center field last week but has handled it better in a couple appearances since then. Bradley Zimmer and Ben Gamel are also options for center field.
- Miguel Sano made a start at third base and could regain eligibility there at some point during the season. "He's willing to put the work in. I think we'll see him playing over there at different points this year," manager Rocco Baldelli said.
- Robbie Ray had seven strikeouts to just one walk in 5 1/3 innings Friday, averaging 96.2 mph on his fastball and topping out at 98. He threw 58 of his 73 pitches for strikes. "He's throwing so many strikes," manager Charlie Montoyo said. "He's throwing his breaking pitches for strikes, so he's keeping hitters off-balance. His last pitch is 97 [mph], so he's on. It's not luck. It's real." Ray averaged less than 94 mph on his fastball last year and has never averaged as high as 96 in a season. He has walked five in 13 2/3 innings this spring, which has always been an issue for him, but he seems to be returning to his high-strikeout ways and is worth a late-round look.
- Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic speculates that first baseman Renato Nunez may not make the Tigers roster after all, noting that it's likely between him and rookie third baseman Isaac Paredes, with Jeimer Candelario shifting across the diamond to accommodate one or the other. Nunez is valued as a cheap source of power in deeper Fantasy leagues, having hit 43 homers and driven in 121 runs in 203 games the past two years.
- Tigers outfielder Akil Baddoo homered for the fourth time this spring Sunday the Phillies. He also stole his second base and drew his eighth walk. The 22-year-old, a Rule 5 pick out of the Twins organization, is making a strong case to make the roster. He has never played above high Class A but is known for his on-base skills and could certainly find his way into more playing time in that lineup. "This is a bigger leap than he's making it look," manager A.J. Hinch said last week. "He's got a lot of self-confidence in the batter's box and out in center field."
- Braves left-hander Max Fried went six innings Sunday at the Rays, allowing one earned run and striking out five. It's notable because in only four of his regular season starts last year did he go that length. He's expected to be named the Braves opening day starter.
- Marlins left-hander Trevor Rogers continued his impressive work Sunday against the Astros, allowing two runs on two hits while striking out six in five innings. He has 19 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings overall, delivering a 4.05 ERA and 1.13 WHIP across four starts. He's looking like the leading candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation.
- Carlos Rodon allowed one hit and struck out five in four innings Sunday after allowing one hit in three innings last time out. The left-hander, who struggled in his return from Tommy John surgery last year, has made some tweaks to his delivery under the guidance of pitching coach Ethan Katz and has seen the spin rate on his fastball improve, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. He got five swings and misses on the 26 fastballs he threw Sunday.
- Brewers right-hander Freddy Peralta continued his dominant spring Sunday against the Mariners, allowing one earned run while striking out five in 4 2/3 innings. It was the first run he allowed this spring. He has 13 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings overall. It's still unclear whether he'll serve as a traditional starting pitcher or more of a bulk reliever, which is where he found success last year. The first choice is more plausible now that he's mixing in a slider and changeup, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He has been mostly fastball-curveball in the past. "We're in a completely different place because of his development of secondary pitches, and his confidence in them and trust in them, the movement of them," manager Craig Counsell said. "It gives him a lot more freedom on the mound for his choices, from pitch to pitch."
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.