The scout comes through Target Field a couple of times each season, updating his reports on various teams for his American League employer. His latest visit arrived just before the All-Star Game, when talk in the press box was about Shohei Ohtani and his plans to pitch and hit in Denver.
"I've been doing this for a couple of decades. I'm in my 60s and have watched thousands of ballplayers," said the scout, who asked not to be identified critiquing another team's player. "Shohei Ohtani is the best baseball player I've ever seen."
It's easy to picture a similarly awe-struck assessment being made in press boxes a century ago, when Babe Ruth was making the transition from one of the game's premier pitchers to a slugging outfielder who transformed the game. And the comparison, of course, is as obvious as it is incredible.
“I'm really looking forward to facing him. But then again, if I give up a hit, it's going to be a really big deal in Japan. I'll have to be sure to get him out this time.”
Ohtani, who came to the United States from his homeland in Japan in 2018, owns a 3.21 ERA, which would rank among the AL's top 10 with a couple more starts, and 95 strikeouts in 73 innings. His fastball has reached 101 mph, and his 88-mph splitter may be even more unhittable.
Meanwhile, Ohtani (pronounced Show-hay Ow-taa-nee) also leads MLB in home runs with 34 frequently titanic blasts, and slugging percentage, .679. Despite his 6-4 frame, he's also swiped a dozen bases. He was the American League's starting pitcher in last week's All-Star Game, and its leadoff hitter — one day after hitting 28 homers in the Home Run Derby.
"I didn't think it could happen in the big leagues. I pitched in Little League, a lot of us did, but nobody is good enough to [keep doing] both," said Twins second baseman Jorge Polanco. "Shohei Ohtani is the only one like him. Everyone is amazed."
Minnesotans will get their chance to be amazed for four days beginning Thursday, when the Angels make their annual visit to Target Field. Ohtani has been here once before, in 2019, and did nothing but add fuel to the legend.
Less than eight months after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery, Ohtani punctuated his first game in Minneapolis by launching a Jose Berrios fastball off the scoreboard high above the bullpens, 429 feet away. He finished the series with six hits and two walks in 13 at-bats.
"He's a spectacle. He brings a dimension and does things on a baseball field that you only dream about," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "It's almost fictional."
And yet so routine, too. When he takes the mound this weekend, he'll be coming off a six-shutout-innings performance Monday in Oakland. And in his last pitching start before the break, Ohtani pitched a season-high seven innings against the Red Sox, allowing just two runs to earn his fourth win.
The following day, after insisting to Angels manager Joe Maddon that he didn't want a day off, Ohtani hit a two-run, 433-foot home run off lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez to put the Angels ahead for good.
That was his 32nd homer of the year, breaking Hideki Matsui's record for most home runs in a season by a Japanese-born player.
"There is no one else like him," Matsui said in tribute. "I was once considered a long-ball hitter in the majors, but I believe that he is truly a long-ball hitter."
His countryman on the Twins, Kenta Maeda, knows firsthand how far Ohtani can hit it. On June 11, 2019, the Angels slugger whipped a 3-2 slider from Maeda, then with the Dodgers, into the Anaheim Stadium bleachers, a 416-foot drive that likely was played plenty of times on Tokyo television.
"I'm really looking forward to facing him. But then again, if I give up a hit, it's going to be a really big deal in Japan," said Maeda, who has also struck out his countryman twice and forced a pop-up, but allowed a single, too. "I'll have to be sure to get him out this time."
Maeda and Ohtani were teammates on Team Japan in international competition in 2015, and Maeda, on the cusp of moving to the U.S. to play with the Dodgers, believed Ohtani, then just 21, would soon be joining him — as a pitcher.
"He was prized mostly for his pitching, but his hitting ability just skyrocketed since he's gotten here," Maeda said. "What surprises me most is that players coming from Japan, they're mostly pitchers. Other than Matsui, you never really see sluggers coming here. But he's taking everything to a new level."
At the box office, too, where Ohtani has accounted for a rise in ticket sales in each city the Angels visit, and in the shops, where Ohtani jersey sales rank No. 1 in the sport. According to MLB, Ohtani gear accounted for 28% of all sales at the All-Star Game.
"We should all take a moment to acknowledge that what he's doing. It's beyond special. It's almost not believable. But he's doing it," Baldelli said. "I'll be taking it in a little bit too, because the guy is in some ways a once-in-a-lifetime player. We don't often get to see guys like this up close."