Shohei Ohtani, please do this one more thing for us even though we're not worthy of your greatness

September 14, 2021

Like every other baseball fan, I’ve enjoyed watching Shohei Ohtani do Shohei Ohtani things this season. He’s been one of the two or three best power hitters in baseball while also pitching like a No. 2 starter, which makes other MLB players giddy and provides tremendous value to the Los Angeles Angels because, effectively, they get two great players from one roster spot.

However, there’s one more wrinkle to Ohtani’s game that I hope the Angels explore more fully: Playing him in the field.

He’s made a few cameo appearances in the outfield this season, but hasn’t had the ball hit to him once in 8.1 innings. In Japan, he played outfield regularly as an 18-year-old, so it wouldn’t be a totally foreign idea, but he only made a handful of appearances there the next season before becoming purely a pitcher-designated hitter. Given how well he’s performed this year there is plenty of incentive to stay the course and avoid any further complications to Ohtani’s regimen.

But there’s upside to playing him in the outfield. Let’s assume he’d be a slightly below average fielder despite his top-level footspeed and elite arm strength just because his jumps and ball tracking will probably need time to develop. If he played that level of defense, it wouldn’t necessarily give a significant boost to his value over playing him at DH, but it would provide the Angels several significant opportunities.

First, they’d be able to keep his bat in the game after he’s done pitching. That’s pretty much the reason manager Joe Maddon has put Ohtani in the outfield this year. Second, they’d be able to have him hit all game in National League games — although it’s also likely the NL will add the DH sooner rather than later. Third, they’d free up the DH spot to use on any kind of hitter they wish.

Justin Upton has another year on his deal, but he’s likely washed and could get bought out. Jo Adell has considerable gifts, but his contact issues may prevent him from ever harnessing those gifts. The team could move on from both of them this offseason, with Mike Trout and Brandon Marsh remaining as starting outfielders. Maybe this offseason Arte Moreno will want to throw everything at Freddie Freeman and then the team could figure out which of Ohtani and Jarred Walsh should play left field and which should DH. Maybe JD Martinez says he wants to sign one more contract to play in Southern California, and the team can’t pass it up. Or maybe Ohtani could play a limited slate of games in the field as a way to open up the DH for Trout, Walsh, Anthony Rendon, or anyone else whose bat the Angels want to keep in the lineup while giving them a respite from playing the field.

But really, the best reason for Ohtani to play in the field more is because it would be incredibly fun. Of course we should root for Ohtani to play in the field because it would present more opportunities for him to blow our minds. I wouldn’t put it past him that he’d be a Lorenzo Cain-level defensive outfielder, only with Jeff Francoeur’s arm.

I want to see him hit 275/380/650 next year with 55 dingers while playing 80 games in the field and pitching 160 innings with a 3.20 ERA and 190 strikeouts. I want him to far exceed my expectations for his defense and turn out to actually be the second coming of Andruw Jones in the field. Again, it might be surprising for him to do it, but would you put it past him? And wouldn’t that be the best?

I rest my case.

(Photo: "Shohei Ohtani" by Erik Drost. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)