Angels star Shohei Ohtani, fresh off a dazzling Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018, met with reporters from the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo this week to reflect on his transition to the Major Leagues. Ohtani, who starred both on the mound and in the box, fielded a wide array of inquiries, including the inevitable comparison to two-way godfather Babe Ruth. Regarding his decision to undergo Tommy John surgery, the 23-year-old acknowledged his initial reservations, but said his recovery has thus far gone well: “It hasn’t quite been two months, but I haven’t had any problems in my daily life,” he said. “For the first month or so, I felt like I couldn’t use my right arm the way I wanted, but I don’t feel like there are any problems now.” The Japanese star, who chose the Angels after a lengthy courting process a year ago that included over half of the league’s teams, originally seemed most lauded for his abilities on the mound, where his 96.7 MPH average fastball velocity in ’18 ranked among the league’s best, but perhaps welcomed even more acolytes with his work at the plate this season: after all, his .285/.361/.564 (152 wRC+) line ranked as the fifth-best park-adjusted mark in the American League among all performers with at least 350 PA, and the lefty swinger destroyed right-handed pitching at an 82 percent above-league-average mark.
In other news from around the league . . .
- The Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin takes care to note that the team’s designation for assignment of 1B/DH C.J. Cron was not financially motivated. Rather, says Topkin, the team hopes to upgrade at the position, and may be poised to do so “on a higher shelf than usual.” Cron, of course, was set to earn a projected $5.2MM in his second arbitration-eligible season in ’19, and hoped to build off a campaign that saw the righty slash .253/.323/.493, for a 122 wRC+. Unsteady performance in past seasons, though, has tempered optimism for the soon-to-be 29-year-old: Steamer, it should be noted, projects the former Angel to be just two percent above the league-average next season, which, with his limited defensive ability and a punitive positional adjustment, would place Cron right around replacement-level in the upcoming campaign. With their perennially limited monetary resources at hand, moving on from the 1B/DH seemed like a prudent move for the surging Rays.
- In a fascinating look into the inner workings of a team’s low-level acquisition substructure, James Fegan of The Athletic details the process by which the White Sox went about acquiring breakout catcher Omar Narvaez. A since-retired scout, it seems, saw just two Narvaez at-bats in the short-season New York-Penn League back in 2013, but his recommendation was enough to convince the ChiSox brass to nab the (at the time) 21-year-old in the minor league portion of the 2013 Rule V Draft. Narvaez’s proceeding output in the upper levels of Chicago’s system was mostly uninspiring, to say the least, but the now 26-year-old has found MLB pitching much more to his liking, posting a career 108 wRC+ over 734 PA since his debut in 2016, a mark well above the offensive baseline for his position. Steamer, likely citing the years of aforementioned ineptitude in the minors, remains unconvinced, pegging the backstop for a 93 wRC+ in ’19, though the lefty’s excellent plate discipline numbers (career 12.3% BB rate against just a 16.9% K rate) will certainly work in his favor moving forward.