Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels' two-way sensation, announced on Instagram on Friday that he will participate in next month's Home Run Derby, becoming the first player to commit to the event.
Ohtani, who ranks third in the majors with 21 home runs, will join a group of eight players in a timed, bracket-style tournament July 12 from Coors Field in Denver, where the thin air at high elevation famously triggers prodigious blasts.
Ohtani will be the first Japanese-born player to participate in the event. He will also be the first player to do so after making at least one pitching start.
"I always wanted to see a Japanese player participate in the Derby, and it happens to be me," Ohtani said through his interpreter. "It's really exciting for me."
Ohtani watched Giancarlo Stanton put on a show during the 2016 Home Run Derby at Petco Park in San Diego. Less than a week later, Ohtani competed in Nippon Professional Baseball's Home Run Derby and won the event, a year when he was also named one of the MVPs for the league's All-Star Series.
He said he believes he swung too hard in that first home-run-hitting competition and vows to adjust this year.
"I just want to take it like it's normal BP, don't want to do too much," said Ohtani, who selected Angels bullpen catcher Jason Brown as his personal pitcher. "All-Star Game's the next day, and there's a chance that I'll be playing in it. And also we have the whole second half ahead of us, so I'm not going to try to burn myself out with the Derby."
Through the first 11 weeks of the season, Ohtani, 26, is one of only eight qualified hitters with an OPS over .950 and one of only 23 pitchers who has made at least 10 starts and has an ERA under 2.90. His 4.3 Baseball-Reference wins above replacement are topped by only Philadelphia Phillies starter Zack Wheeler. The only players who have hit more home runs are Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays and Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres, each of whom have accumulated 22.
Ohtani, who also leads American League designated hitters in fan votes for the All-Star Game, has been wowing players with majestic rounds of batting practice ever since he broke into the majors in 2018, and this year his power has risen to another level. Ohtani ranks first in barrels per plate appearance, fifth in average home run distance and fifth in average exit velocity. He has hit 11 home runs that have traveled at least 425 feet, more than any other player. And he has produced 12 extra-base hits with an exit velocity of at least 110 mph, a mark surpassed only by Guerrero.
"This is an opportunity for him to showcase even more," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "I believe that he will handle it properly, and then we'll see how it plays out. Nobody knows if somebody's going to get hurt. Nobody knows if it impacts performance afterward. That's just always conjecture as far as I'm concerned."
There have been 5,592 home runs hit at Coors Field since it opened in 1995, over 300 more than any other ballpark.
The Derby, which transitioned to a timed format in 2015, is a three-round, single-elimination tournament, with players seeded based on where they rank in the home run leaderboard. Hitters get four minutes per round, with limited timeouts permitted, and 30 seconds of bonus time are given when they produce two 440-foot home runs in a round.
Ohtani has four of those this season.
Only Guerrero and Tatis have more.