Don't sleep on Shohei Ohtani if you're playing ESPN fantasy baseball this season.
Unlike Yahoo leagues, in which Ohtani will be treated as two separate players - a pitcher and a utility player - ESPN announced Wednesday that the 23-year-old phenom will count as one player, and owners can either use him as a starter or utility player on a given day. (CBS is using the same system, treating Ohtani as one player and forcing fantasy players to accrue either his pitching stats or his hitting stats each day.)
On Tuesday, as Ohtani arrived for his first spring training with the Los Angeles Angels, manager Mike Scioscia expounded a bit on how he intends to utilize the Japanese star in 2018.
"He's going to get the most looks as a pitcher," Scioscia told ESPN's Jerry Crasnick. "If he can pitch to his capabilities, that will always influence your team more than what he would do hitting. But that's not to say he won't have a chance to be a difference-maker on the offensive end, too."
Ohtani, who hit .332/.403/.540 with eight home runs and 16 doubles in 65 games with the Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2017, is projected by FanGraphs' Steamer system to receive 207 plate appearances this season - a would-be live-ball era record for a pitcher and easily the most since Bob Lemon posted an .825 OPS in 151 plate appearances for the Cleveland Indians in 1950.
"There's a certain novelty to it. You've had Madison Bumgarner swing the bat with the (San Francisco) Giants, but not like we're trying to implement with Shohei," Scioscia said. "I don't think it's going to be that big of an issue. We need him to pitch. He's a big part of our rotation. Secondary to that, when he has an opportunity to swing the bat, we definitely want to take a look at him."