The shock of the Shohei Ohtani signing is slowly starting to wear off for Angels fans as the team prepares for Spring Training in Arizona next week. As the Japanese star makes his MLB debut this season, can he be the top ace in the American League West?
One thing is for certatin, Shohei Ohtani will lead the AL West pitchers in batting average…and home runs… and RBI’s… you get the idea.
However, can Ohtani be the best on the mound in the division? There is no question he has the talent and potential to contend for a Cy Young Award at some point in his career, but he faces stiff competition to be the best of the West in 2018.
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For one, Ohtani will have to adapt to life as a major league pitcher. While he spent the past few years dominating in Japan, the grind of the MLB season has always been tough on Japanese pitchers making the leap, and none of them will try to accomplish what Ohtani has his eyes set on.
Ohtani’s pursuit of being a true two-way player will undoubtedly affect his performance on and transition to MLB pitcher mounds. While his pitching is his best asset, he will spend a large portion of his time on hitting and serving as the designated hitter throughout the week.
He is also facing some stiff competition for the crown of the AL West’s best pitcher. While the Oakland A’s don’t have any real competitors barring a breakout season from an unknown name, Ohtani faces competition from every other club, including his own.
Garrett Richards has lost too much time to injury. After a breakout 2014 season, he has not been able to stay on the mound. He did finish 2017 by making five starts with a 2.74 ERA while striking out 23 batters in as many innings. If he can maintain that form he had at the end of last season throughout 2018, he will have his own claim as the AL West’s Cy Young (the Nolan Ryan Award perhaps?).
Outside of Southern California, there is competition up North. Felix Hernandez is another guy who has been hampered by injuries the past couple of years. However, prior to the injury bug, King Felix had one of the most dominant runs in recent MLB history including a five-year All-Star run, a Cy Young Award, and four top-ten Cy Young finishes. While he will be 32 in April, he is a strong bounce back candidate and possesses one of the best changeups in the MLB.
The Texas Rangers do not have a noticeable candidate, but Cole Hamels is a name worth mentioning. He is 34 now, but has four top-eight Cy Young finishes in his career. Unless he finds a fountain of youth though, the biggest threats in Texas will come from Houston.
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Those Astros. The World Series champions went out and made one of the biggest moves of the offseason. Justin Verlander, the greatest pitcher of his generation is always a threat for a Cy Young Award, and may be the leading candidate in the AL West. After him, Dallas Kuechel is only two seasons removed from his Cy Young victory, and showed his 4.55 ERA in 2016 was a fluke. He’ll look to improve on his All-Star 2.90 ERA from 2017 this season. Even their latter option in Lance McCullers Jr. is a young guy who can post a breakout season.
However, the Astros went on and added Gerrit Cole this offseason. While his numbers have not shown it the past couple seasons, Cole is one of the premier young pitchers in the league. A new atmosphere can do wonders for a pitcher, and that is exactly what the Astros are looking for in 2018.
All-in-all, there are around five guys challenging Ohtani for the “Nolan Ryan Award”. It would be a huge achievement for him, but it is also a complicated task. One advantage Ohtani possesses is that he is in a pitchers’ ballpark, unlike the pitchers in Houston. While King Felix has a long outfield behind him as well, the Halos defense is superior to any other in the division.
Ohtani has a real chance of being the best AL West pitcher in 2018. He has a great defense, a great game manager in Martin Maldonado, and will likely be serving in a six man rotation (which means more rest). Ohtani has a real shot at being the Rookie of the Year in 2018, and that may just include dominating his Western competition.