Shohei Ohtani has emerged as one of baseball’s most exciting stars over the last three years.
Ohtani was one of Japan’s biggest baseball stars before achieving MLB fame in America.
Mike Trout said Ohtani’s experience in Japan was key in helping him adjust to the hype in the US.
Japan might be a better place to prepare for baseball fame than American minor leagues, according to the game’s biggest superstar.
Mike Trout has watched his Los Angeles Angels teammate Shohei Ohtani establish himself as a legitimate two-way player over the last three years, with pitching and hitting numbers comparable to veteran All-Stars.
But from a mental perspective, Trout has seen Ohtani handle the fame and pressure of international MLB stardom in Los Angeles even more effortlessly.
“The hype was so real when he first came here; people had such high expectations,” Trout told Insider. “Seeing the hype around him, and then seeing all the reporters, I’d never seen anything like that, and all this stuff he had to do with the media. It was just pretty crazy putting that much pressure on yourself with all those people watching. That’s pretty special. You can’t teach that.”
Trout, a former first-round pick in the 2009 MLB Draft who’s gone on to become a three-time AL MVP, is no stranger to the spotlight and pressure of MLB fame himself. Trout signed the third-richest contract in the history of international sports in 2019 with a 12-year $426 million deal. He was once even used as a positive metaphor by former president Barack Obama for a bill he was trying to push through Congress in 2014.
As a player, Trout has often resisted opportunities to be showy and build on his fame like stars in other sports, to focus solely on putting together the best slugging and on-base percentage of any active player in baseball.
Trout, who’s had to navigate plenty of attention himself, agrees that Ohtani’s upbringing in Japan conditioned the two-way star to handle pressure better than an American farm system experience. The experience Trout himself went through.
“As a young player coming up from the minors then getting up here is like trying to slow the game down. And I think Shohei was already doing that in Japan because he had all the attention,” Trout said. “He was put through it already. He knows what the big moments are like and how to react.”
When asked if Ohtani’s experience playing in Japan gave him an advantage over players that came up through the minors, Trout responded “absolutely.”
Ohtani almost took the path of coming up through the American minor leagues. He initially announcing his plans to pursue an MLB career right out of high school in 2012. Still, he was drafted by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in Japan’s draft. The Fighters convinced him to start his professional career in his home country after a lengthy contract negotiation.
The decision to stay in Japan allowed Ohtani to captivate the loyalty of Japanese baseball fans much earlier than it would have taken him to make it to the majors. He became a deity-like figure for the Fighters and the entire country as a dominant young pitcher and hitter, an anomaly in baseball at any level.
“It’s pretty remarkable with all the hype when he first came over, everybody wanted to see Shohei. And when I came up as a number-one prospect, it was very similar, but with him coming from Japan with the fanbase over there, it was a little bit bigger,” Trout said.
Japanese baseball has produced other players who dominated the majors, most notably Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, with World Series titles and MVP honors in their careers. Japan has also produced other high-performers like Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish, and Kenta Maeda.
But the Japanese advantage that Trout believes in Japan is still very available to non-Japanese-born players .
Carter Stewart Jr. was drafted eighth overall by the Atlanta Braves in the 2018 MLB draft. Stewart, top pitching prospect, was drafted right out of high school in his home state of Florida. But he followed a path more similar to Ohtani’s than Trout’s, by signing with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of NPB.
That decision allowed Stewart to sign for a $7 million deal – $5 million more than what the Braves were willing to offer him after discovering a wrist ailment in his post-draft physical, according to CBS Sports.
Stewart made his debut with the Hawks earlier this month and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in four years at the age of 25, which is likely at least three years earlier than if he stayed with Atlanta.
Stewart could be a pioneer for young American players to look at Japan as a destination to start their baseball careers. Additionally, Ohtani’s potential as a future superstar could soon make Japan the go-to country for talented young players worldwide.
Read the original article on Insider