Slugging ace Ohtani signs with Angels

ANGEL INVESTMENT ­— Shohei Ohtani (C) poses for a photo with Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia (L) and general manager Billy Eppler as the Japanese pitcher-hitter was introduced by the Angels at a Dec. 9 press conference in Anaheim, Calif. Kyodo News Photo

LOS ANGELES  — Shohei Ohtani, the two-way phenom known as “Japan’s Babe Ruth,”
has decided to join the Los Angeles Angels, his agent and the major league club announced Dec. 8.

The move came after the 23-year-old Ohtani reportedly completed talks with the seven clubs in the running to sign the pitcher-outfielder earlier this week.

“What mattered to him most wasn’t market size, time zone or league, but that he felt a true bond with the Angels,” agent Nez Balelo said in a statement. “He sees this as the best environment to develop and reach the next level and attain his career goals.”

Ohtani, who sported No. 11 for Japan’s Nippon Ham Fighters, will wear No. 17 for the Angels, said the team based in the city of Anaheim, which is part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The Angels, for which Japan’s Hideki Matsui played in the past, said in a statement that the club is “honored Shohei Ohtani has decided to join the Angels organization.”

Ohtani held a news conference at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Dec. 9 to announce his
decision.

“We felt a unique connectivity with him throughout the process and are excited he will become an Angel,” the statement said, adding,

”This is a special time for Angels fans, the Ohtani family, and Nez Balelo and the team at Creative Artists Agency.”

Ohtani announced about a month ago that he wants to move to the major leagues through the posting system and to continue both hitting and pitching.

He was put up for bid on Dec. 1 by the Fighters for the maximum $20 million posting fee. He had until 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 22 to agree to a contract with an MLB team.

In addition to the Angels, Ohtani reportedly met with the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.

Ohtani and his representatives had earlier spurned more than 10 other teams, including the New York Yankees, after Balelo asked all 30 big league clubs to prepare a presentation about how they could meet his needs and nurture his aspirations as both a hitter and a pitcher.

In his five seasons with the Sapporo-based Fighters, Ohtani had a 42-15 record on the mound with a 2.52 career ERA. He struck out 624 batters in his 543 innings and holds the record for the fastest pitch recorded in Japan at 165 kilometers per hour (102.5 miles per hour).
 At the plate, he is a .286 career hitter with 48 home runs, 150 runs and 166 RBIs in 1,170 plate appearances, mostly as a designated hitter.

Because Ohtani is under 25, he has since January been defined as an international amateur by MLB and its union. As such he is ineligible to join a club on a major league contract.

Instead, he will be limited to a standard seven-year minor league deal with a signing bonus restricted to a tiny fraction of his free market value. The Angels can reportedly offer him a signing bonus of up to $2.3 million.

During his senior year at Hanamaki Higashi High School in Iwate Prefecture, Ohtani hoped to sign directly with a big league club, and because of that, only Nippon Ham risked a first-round draft pick on him. The Fighters then persuaded Ohtani and his family that their club could improve the player’s chances of success in the majors.

After five years in the Pacific League, Ohtani has developed into the world’s most intriguing baseball player because of his hitting and pitching, and was high on the wish list of every major league club. When he was in high school, he was ready to sacrifice his hitting ambitions to sign with a big league club.

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