Seven months ago I was perusing Amazon and daydreaming of improbable scenarios that might come back to haunt me. I was already the owner of a Canon Vixia HRF700 digital video recorder. The camera’s battery lasts a couple of hours and there is only around 30-60 minutes of recordable material in a given baseball game. I had never needed a spare battery but started running through Murphy’s Law scenarios in my mind. What if I forget to charge it? What if it gets damaged? What if it malfunctions? In an unprecedented move (for me), I did something I never normally have the foresight to do: plan for contingencies. Besides the battery was only $16. F*** it.
Last Friday, I was glad that I did. On Thursday night, I plugged in my Canon and went to bed with dreams of Ohtani sliders inducing ugly swings and misses. Ok, I made up the dream part, but the rest of this story is true. For whatever reason, my camera did not charge. After an ephemeral freak-out moment at the field, I remembered my spare battery. Worth every penny.
The B Squad scrimmage was slated to start at 10:00 AM. Chris Kusiolek (Twitter @calikusiolek) and I arrived early and claimed our seats behind home. This promised to be a mob scene, especially for normally docile B Squad standards. We were soon surrounded by a mix of Japanese media and domestic scouts. The high powered camera to person ratio was extremely high here. I’d estimate there were between 10 and 20 cameramen snapping rapid-fire action shots of Ohtani’s every move.
Let’s finish the background fluff and get to the good stuff. Were these videos cherry-picked? Of course. I don’t think that diminishes how good Ohtani’s stuff is and how excited we should be to see him pitch this year.
Fastball – 70
The fastball sat 92-94 and touched 96. My 70 grade is more based off his reported high 90s velocity. I suspect we are in the midst of a spring training ramping up phase. The fastball command was in the 55-60 range; It wasn’t elite but certainly better than average and maybe plus. He used it to both sides of the plate and expanded the zone on hitters with two strikes. Ohtani got some natural plane on the fastball due to his height, and he had the ability to run it armside out of the zone.
Slider – 70
Ohtani displayed advanced feel for his slider. He was able to use it to both sides of the plate. It’s worth noting, he was especially comfortable using it to the left side of the plate (batter perspective), whether back-dooring lefties or breaking it back inside on righties. Ranging from 80-85, it had extreme two-plane movement. Ohtani could use it in the zone early in counts or as a put away pitch below the zone with two strikes.
Splitter – 70
From all accounts the splitter is Ohtani’s go-to strikeout pitch. It was in the low 80s and dropped off the table. It enticed hitters into a couple of ugly swings and misses in this game. He used his slider more than the splitter in this outing which causes me to speculate whether he is “saving” his splitter for actual games in an attempt to limit opponent looks at it. Alternatively, have the Angels recommended a change to his pitch mix? I am unsure of the answer and am probably reading into it too much. It was only 2 2/3 innings in a spring training practice after all.
Curveball – 55
There were two or three curves thrown in the game. Ohtani was using it more as a change of pace offering within the zone. It had huge depth and a 12 to 6 shape. He would play with its velocity a bit and it ranged from 71-79. One was taken for a strike in the zone but left up, and I think a major league hitter would have taken advantage. Guys on this B squad were unable to make him pay for it. There was also a ball that slipped out of Ohtani’s hand a flew to the backstop. I believe that was his curve as well. Despite some inconsistency with it today it’s hard to overlook the massive movement on this pitch; I think it plays to above average.
Overall, it’s a nasty bevy of pitches. He didn’t even break out his changeup, which I have heard is a 50-grade pitch. It’s not unreasonable to think Ohtani will have three 70-grade pitches, assuming the fastball reaches its previous velocity. With regards to his overall command projection, Ohtani has long levers, but his body control and athleticism are phenomenal. I think his athleticism will enable him to touch 60 grade command as a whole.
Speaking of athleticism, the most underratedly impressive thing I saw him do was leap into the air and almost knock down this comebacker, a ball he had no business in getting a glove on. I think he’s going to be an elite defensive pitcher.
Like with any pitcher, health is an omnipresent concern and with Ohtani’s reported UCL sprain, there is even more risk. If he stays healthy, I see a player who could step in this year and be a number three starter. And it would not surprise me at all to see him produce at a number two level.
The Ohtani storyline will be a fun follow not only for Angels fans but for MLB fans across the country.