(CBS) The recently completed 2017 amateur draft brought with it an intriguing subplot.
A couple of two-way players — those who can pitch one day and regularly be a position player on others days — were selected early in the first round: Notre Dame High (Calif.) right-hander/shortstop Hunter Greene at No. 2 overall to thre Reds and Louisville left-hander/first baseman Brendan McKay at No. 4 overall to the Rays.
Those two are the latest in what’s become a quest for some lately. The Dodgers and Padres are among the organizations with players in the minor leagues trying to develop as two-way players. So, how feasible is this goal? Can a team develop a truly difference-making two-way player in MLB?
Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta doesn’t believe so.
“It’s not possible,” Arrieta said in an interview on the Bernstein and Goff Show last Friday. “I would love it to be possible, I really would. I’ve seen some amazing two-way players in college. I played against probably one of the best college two-way players ever in Joe Savery, who went to Rice. Once you climb the ranks, you get into the minor leagues, you see just how difficult it is and how many games you play, how often you’re on the road, how much you travel. And trying to carry the workload of a position player and a pitcher — whether that’s a starting pitcher or a reliever — I mean, you’re asking so much of your body.
“A young guy who’s 20, 22 might be able to do it briefly. But I don’t think there’s any way that somebody’s able to sustain that over the course of a career. I think eventually, guys are just going to have to choose which one they’re best at, what they’re most comfortable with and honestly what the organization wants from them. While I would love to say it is possible, I just really don’t think it is.”
The player with the best chance of accomplishing this feat in today’s day and age isn’t even in America yet. Japanese outfielder/right-hander Shohei Otani, 22, is regarded as the world’s best two-way player right now. He currently plays for the Nippon-Ham Fighters in Nippon Professional Baseball, the best league in Japan. It’s expected that he’ll come join MLB in 2018, which figures to create a wild free-agent chase for him this offseason.
Otani hit .322 with 22 homers and 67 RBIs in 104 games in 2016 while going 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 21 pitching appearances, including 20 starts.
“If he can show Major League Baseball that he’s capable of doing something like that in that capacity in this league, then we’ll see,” Arrieta said of Otani. “I could be proven wrong. I think most people agree with me that it just requires too much of your body on a daily basis. And it would really limit the recovery time of that player and with all the variables incorporated in the season, I just think it’s not doable.”