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Before the start of the regular season, many baseball experts believed that Shohei Ohtani would be better off playing in the minors to perfect his dynamic craft. Struggling to strikeout batters while looking lost at the plate during Spring Training, Ohtani appeared to be overmatched in a league where the batters and pitchers utilize immense power to overcome their opponents. Although Ohtani clearly flashed the raw talent with both his exceptional pitching velocity and natural swing, it initially appeared that the highly talented baseball wunderkind needed some time to adjust before being introduced to major league play.
And then the regular season started.
Not since the late great Babe Ruth have baseball fans witnessed an intriguing spectacle quite like this, and even then it could be argued that Ohtani's dominance on both the mound and at the plate is unprecedented. Although Ohtani has only compiled two starts as a pitcher this season, he has consistently baffled opposing hitters as he has recorded 18 strikeouts and walked just two batters over 13 innings. Unlike many starting pitchers in the majors, Ohtani is able to utilize a variety of grips and varying speeds to keep opposing hitters guessing, which has served him well thus far against conditioned and cerebral major league lineups.
As a hitter, Ohtani has been simply mesmerizing as he has a keen eye for which pitches to wait on and which ones he can swing at emphatically. Posting an OPS of 1.191 over 30 at bats, Ohtani has both the elevated power and dynamic swinging abilities to hit a variety of pitches with devastating results. About the only thing that Ohtani has not done from an offensive perspective is steal bases, which is a skill set that is becoming more and more obsolete as power hitting becomes the primary way to score runs rather than playing strategic small ball to garner the same results.
Certainly, the Shohei Ohtani show has captured the attention of both casual and die hard baseball fans, which is something that could be vital in bringing a younger generation into the fold to appreciate a sport whose average fan is around 50 years of age. In an era where multi-faceted superstars are the captivating force that keep fans coming back for more, Ohtani could effectively rekindle the interest of those fans who have been the victims to the instant gratification aspects of every day life. While the likes of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Manny Machado should not be overlooked for their impressive and captivating contributions to baseball, Ohtani is the one-of-a-kind talent that will be vital in separating the sport of baseball from the more high-octane professional sports within the United States.
Inevitably, the next logical inquiry to acknowledge is whether or not Ohtani can maintain this type of brilliant dominance throughout the course of an entire regular season and beyond. To be sure, Ohtani will have his moments of stagnation as opposing hitters find ways to adjust to his deadly splitter while opposing pitchers commit more time to understanding and circumventing his wide-ranging swing. However, adjustments work both ways. As the opposition discover ways to stifle the versatile talent, Ohtani will confidently make adjustments of his own to stay one step ahead of his opponents, which is a innate skill that separates the good from the elite in the majors.
From a micro perspective, Ohtani has already been an athletic sensation that has, at least for the moment, garnered significant attention for a sport that many consider to be dull and overly methodical. While we may not have enough to say assuredly that Ohtani's abilities will change how many view baseball from a macro perspective, his presence and potential alone is impossible to ignore and will be worth watching closely as this season progresses.