Shohei Ohtani will not revolutionize Major League Baseball's division of labor but he will raise questions, believes Trey Hillman, a man who knows a thing or two about being at the spearhead of baseball experiments.
Much of the talk about Ohtani is whether or not he could spark a revolution in the way major league teams think about two-way players or spur the move toward a six-man starting pitching rotation.
Neither is likely, said Hillman, who earned his spurs as a top-flight manager with Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters -- Ohtani's current club -- before making his major league debut in 2008 as manager of the Kansas City Royals.
"I don't think he is going to change the mentality. It's going to open some eyes, provided that he is successful (at both pitching and hitting)," said Hillman, the first man to manage in three of the world's elite pro baseball leagues after his debut this year with South Korea's SK Wyverns.
"At the minimum, we'll say, OK. We've got an anomaly here. We've eliminated the statement that it can't be done in Major League Baseball. Let's be a little more open minded."
Baseball insiders have downplayed the chances of Ohtani's success at being a two-way, front-line player in the majors. After all, no one has pulled it off since Babe Ruth did so for part of the 1918 season as a 23-year-old with the Boston Red Sox.
But Hillman, speaking to Kyodo News by telephone on Tuesday, thinks that given the proper effort on the part of his major league club, Ohtani has a good chance.
"I think every baseball man believes he can be more impactful on the mound, but there's enough intrigue and enough ability there, I believe, that he can be impactful on both sides of the ball," Hillman said.
"There's going to be an adjustment to the different pitches, but the swing definitely plays. He's just going to have the ability to mishit (the ball and still hit) some home runs. He knows the strike zone."
Until Ohtani began declining meetings with teams on Sunday, virtually every major league club was envisioning some plan for employing the world's No. 1 pitching prospect as a hitter.
One option bandied about is for his new club to adopt a six-man rotation, while another is for Ohtani to pitch once a week as he did in Japan, batting in between starts as an outfielder in the National League or a designated hitter in the American League.
According to Hillman, the latter option as an ace spot starter and DH is the most plausible.
"I think it's better with an American League team for the obvious reason (of the DH)," Hillman said. "I'll be a little bit surprised if at the end of the day it's a National League team, but at the end of the day, this young man gets to choose."
"You certainly could (pitch him once a week), if you felt comfortable with your five-man rotation. If you felt like you had a legitimate No. 1, 2 and 3 (starting pitcher), then you could skip No. 4 and 5 as needed and match Shohei up as another No. 1."
Hillman said that strategy could pay big dividends not only for the regular starting rotation and Ohtani but also for the bullpen, opening up the possibility for an AL club to add a position player.
But most intriguing of all will be how Ohtani and his club manage and monitor his fitness to enable him to grow in both ways.
"I think it's going to have to be the right prescription, the right equation," Hillman said. "You don't want to go too long between plate appearances. Then you turn the guy into virtually the most difficult thing to do, (being) a pinch-hitter once every five or six days."
But for Ohtani, who held talks with the Texas Rangers, the Seattle Mariners and the Chicago Cubs in Los Angeles on Tuesday, finding the perfect balance might prove an uphill battle for anyone, Hillman suggested.
Communicating with the two-way star, assessing how he feels after pitching or swinging the bat on any given day will be a key to the formula.
Aside from adjusting to all aspects of the MLB game, including travel and game schedules, outdoor stadiums will also be a challenge for someone who has played most of his pro games in domed stadiums. But keeping his ego in check, Hillman said, should not be a problem.
"The great thing he has going for him is that he's a superior elite athlete. He seems to just have great ego management and humility, and I think that's going to add to a consistent and solid work ethic that he needs to make the adjustments to continue to have a chance to be dominant."
"It's going to be very exciting for MLB. Whichever team gets him is going to reap some huge rewards."