Shohei Otani wants to remain two-way player — will MLB teams oblige?

Japan star Shohei Otani confirms his intentions to compete in MLB. (AP)

It’s only a matter of time now before Shohei Otani is under contract to a Major League Baseball team. The Babe Ruth of Japan, as he’s widely known for his ability to pitch and hit at the highest level, will be posted this winter, the Nippon Ham Fighters announced this week. That means MLB teams will have a chance to sign a potential instant impact player, and for well below his presumed market value thanks to MLB’s international bonus pool restrictions.

Before that process begins though, Otani took some time to meet with the media in Japan early Saturday morning to confirm his intentions to compete in MLB, to discuss his motivation for pursuing this opportunity and to lay out his overall goals.

Among the topics most frequently asked about was Otani’s ability as a two-way player. The prevailing thought is that MLB teams will want him to focus on either pitching or hitting,  with his pitching ability being considered most attractive. As for Otani’s perspective, he’s on record now saying he’d like to continue doing both in MLB, but he also says he’ll listen to what each team has to say on the matter.

Whether Otani remains a two-way player full-time or even part-time is as big a part of the intrigue here as where he actually signs. Since money isn’t going to be the biggest factor here, perhaps there will be more flexibility on both sides to compromise on a role that makes Otani happy and allows the team to evaluate him on both sides.

Another factor, at least initially, could be Otani’s health. Playing through an ankle injury that required October surgery, the 23-year-old Otani still won the Pacific League MVP after posting a 3-2 record with a 3.20 ERA this year. At the plate he hit. 332 with eight homers and 31 RBIs in 65 games.

Despite the award, the injury clearly hurt his numbers. Whichever team signs him will want to keep him effective over a 162-game schedule, so it’s difficult to envision more than one role at least early on. The good news is he’s expected to be healthy in time for the new season, but again probably not to the point where he’d be used four or five times a week.

The other big takeaway from Otani’s media gathering was his humility. It’s not a surprise given previous reports from those who know him best, but it really came through in one response in particular.

Despite his desires to be a two-way player, he’s not likely to make a fuss one way or the other way. He knows he’ll have to earn his opportunity and role, whether that leads him to facing the Bryce Harper’s and Mike Trout’s of MLB, or even the Clayton Kershaw’s and Justin Verlander’s.

Here’s another glimpse into Otani’s humble personality.

We can already tell Otani will be impossible to dislike. We just can’t wait to see his remarkable talent on display.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!