TOKYO -- The doubters were bountiful, the naysayers were loud and the critics still refuse to be silent about him. But they all have to be shaking their heads at what second-year, two-way player Shohei Otani is doing this season with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
The part-time pitcher, who is still just 19, did enough on the mound on Sunday to knock the Orix Buffaloes out of the Pacific League top spot with a 5-4 win in front of the home fans at Sapporo Dome.
He has been called the “Fastball Prince,” and it’s easy to see why.
The right-hander at one point fired 24 consecutive fastballs in pitch sequences early in the game, using one off-speed pitch in his first 30. The flamethrower topped out at 100 mph.
He is 3-1 and has already matched his win total from last season in just five outings this year (he appeared in 13 games in 2013).
Otani is a highly touted pitcher who has major league ability on the mound, a scout told One World Sports last year. But Otani, an outfielder when he’s not on the mound, is making a huge impact with his bat.
The teenager is batting a gaudy .392 in 56 at-bats. Six of his 22 hits are doubles, he has a triple and a homer and he’s also batting .556 with runners in scoring position. So getting on a .453 clip and is slugging .589 is just a bonus. That kind of production is hard to ignore, and shouldn’t be impeded.
The average would be the best in the country, but the Fighters have him on a limited regimen to keep him fresh before and after his starts on the mound. Last week, he provided two-thirds of the offense in a 3-2 win over the Saitama Seibu Lions with an RBI double in the fourth inning and an RBI single in the sixth.
MLB teams suggest he focus on his work on the mound, since they can’t pop in at the local “Pitcher Mart” and purchase garden variety 100-mph-throwing pitcher just because they are willing to spend the cash. Some have called his exploits at the plate a hobby.
He has 30 strikeouts but has yielded 35 hits with eight walks in 28.2 innings. His ERA is a mediocre-for-Japan 3.45, but not bad for a second-year guy still learning his way as a pro.
So as he develops as a pitcher/player, those watching him shouldn’t rush to judgment about his future. Let’s be patient and allow his ability to determine if he should be pigeonholed into one or the other. Because the world is filled with people who are successful doing something people said they couldn’t do.