This is less the Sporting News’ mistake as it is their panel of “125 experts, including 18 Hall of Famers” who pick the Top 50 current ballplayers in the game this time each year. They get number 1 OK: Pujols. Not many would argue with that.
But how about Chase Utley at number 9 behind Ichiro and Derek Jeter of all people? How about Jayson Werth at 49, only 16 slots behind Derrick Lee and five behind Bobby Abreu! I love to make fun of defensive Phillies fans more than life itself, but they have my total permission to go apes— over this one. Not that they are the only ones with beefs here. Go down the list and you’ll find all manner or weirdness.
As Adam Morris at Lone Star Ball notes, the panel of experts includes guys like convicted multiple felon and all-around dummy Denny McClain, Peter Ueberroth, the architect of 1980s-collusion, and Darren Daulton, a fine former catcher but a man who currently believes that the universe is created and sustained by numerical synchronicities, and that all matter is charged with vibrational energy, which has escaped human perception because it is extradimensional in origin. Really.
So obviously good judgment and sober reasoning is not a qualification for the Sporting News’ expert panel. As such, I think we should take this poll’s results about as seriously as McClain and Ueberroth take the law and Daulten takes the scientific method.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.