Shohei Ohtani: Is the Angels’ New Two-Way Star in Trouble?

December 13, 2017 | insideinjuries | No Comments shohei ohtani injury

The Angels landed top international target Shohei Ohtani last week and signed him to a six-year deal. The two-way player is one of the most intriguing guys to enter the league in years. Ohtani hopes to be the only starting pitcher and power hitter in Major League Baseball, earning him the nickname “the Japanese Babe Ruth.” If Ohtani can live up to the hype, the Angels will have one of the scariest combos in baseball with Ohtani and Mike Trout.

Shohei Ohtani Injury Concerns

While there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the arrival of Ohtani, he does come with some injury concerns.

Earlier this week, medical reports were released that raised some red flags. Ohtani has a grade 1 sprain to the Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his pitching elbow. UCL injuries are common in the throwing arm of pitchers and often need surgery. Ohtani’s sprain is mild enough that he does not need surgery right now. He received a PRP injection, which can be very helpful with mild sprains. Masahiro Tanaka and Chris Sale are two pitchers who took a conservative approach after damaging the UCL. Both have had great success.

A grade 1 UCL sprain indicates inflammation to the ligament but no tear. It’s mild but can be a precursor to a more serious injury down the road. Right now Ohtani is not at a high risk of needing Tommy John surgery in the next few years. This could be a lingering problem though. It could limit his innings or force him to miss a start here and there. If he doesn’t alter his mechanics, he will continue to put stress on the UCL and could cause more damage in the future, but that will take years. If this turns into a partial tear or a full thickness tear at any point, Tommy John surgery would be necessary.

So for now there isn’t much concern over Ohtani’s elbow. He will just need to be diligent in his rehab and strength program. As the medical report said, “Although partial damage of UCL in deep layer of his right UCL exist, he is able to continue full baseball participation with sufficient elbow care program.” In addition to the UCL sprain, there is also a “small free body” floating in his elbow. This isn’t really a concern right now, but if it does bother him during the season he could undergo surgery at the end of the year. It’s a simple procedure that comes with a pretty quick recovery.

Other Injury Concerns

While Ohtani’s elbow is certainly the biggest concern, he recently battled other injuries as well. Ohtani had surgery on his right ankle in October to address an injury that has bothered him since 2016. During surgery doctors removed a bone spur and an extra bone that had developed behind his ankle. He should be fully recovered and able to participate in all baseball activities in around three months. He also missed much of the past season with a hamstring strain, so there are quite a few injury concerns here.

Normally an ankle injury and a hamstring strain wouldn’t be a huge concern for a pitcher, but he is also a power hitter. Lower body injuries greatly affect power, and he has two problems here. His elbow injury is of course more of a concern when pitching. Ohtani has a fastball that can top 100 mph and a sharp breaking ball. Any injury to the elbow has a great impact on fastball velocity. It also places the elbow under greater stress when throwing breaking pitches.

Shohei Ohtani Injury Risk

This is certainly a situation to watch. But the concern here is more with his overall injury risk and the long-term implications of his injuries. He should be ready to go at the start of training camp, and there won’t be any injuries preventing him from being a two-way player. Keep in mind that by both pitching and hitting, he will be putting more stress on his body. He will need to put in extra work to both keep up with his pitching program and work on his overall endurance and body strength.

The Angels certainly could have a once-in-a-lifetime player on their hands. It’s too soon to tell if he can be successful as both a dominant starting pitcher and a power hitter. We haven’t seen anyone in decades have this kind of success, and there’s a reason for that. It’s incredibly taxing on the body to do both. The Shohei Ohtani injury concerns are valid, but it’s too soon to tell how things will play out. For Ohtani, it may be better to focus on being the best pitcher he can be instead of being pretty good both on the mound and at the plate.

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