With Shohei Ohtani leaving Japan to join the Angels and a few top prospects capable of performing both on the mound and at the plate, the notion of a two-way player competing in the big leagues has been a hot topic.
Hall of Famer Dave Winfield joined in the discussion Sunday, speaking at a youth baseball fest hosted by Reds prospect Hunter Greene in Inglewood, Calif. Winfield himself was a two-way prospect. He primarily pitched in college at University of Minnesota, but the Padres drafted him fourth overall in 1973 as an outfielder, where he played for 22 years in the Majors, winning seven Gold Glove Awards and six Silver Slugger Awards.
“You know, it’s not always about how many things you can do, it’s what you want to do well,” said Winfield, who also was drafted by the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, the ABA’s Utah Stars and the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. “I chose to go to college and the college coach really made the choice and said, ‘You’re just going to pitch.’ And for the first three years, all my friends would come to the game [and say], ‘Hey, when are you going to put Winfield in there to hit?’ And so they finally did it the last year.
“Sometimes the organization makes a choice, sometimes injuries or anything can send you in a different direction. I was just a kid that grew up playing a number of sports and I could play offense and I could pitch. And sometimes it’s up to others to make the final choice for you. It’s not always trying to do the most or be the first, because it’s very difficult on the body and the mind, too, to go both ways.”
Ohtani is now vying to become the first two-way star in the Majors since Babe Ruth, a role Ohtani excelled in for five seasons in Japan. He’s expected to join the Angels’ rotation and hit a few times per week as a part-time designated hitter.
“I hope he does,” Winfield said. “I’d like to see it because it really hasn’t been done at a high level before, so we’ll see.”
Ohtani may be the first to attempt the two-way feat in 2018, but there is another young prospect who could join him in the coming years. In last June’s Draft, Greene and fellow two-way standout Brendan McKay went second and fourth overall to the Reds and Rays. They’re now rated as the No. 18 (Greene) and 20 (McKay) prospects, per MLB Pipeline.
Greene, 18, was drafted out of Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and pitched in three games and started seven at designated hitter in the Pioneer League last season. He’ll strictly be on the mound this year, but McKay is expected to continue to play both ways after starting six games as a pitcher and playing 36 at first base or designated hitter in his first professional season out of Louisville.
“There’s a small slice, a small opportunity for them to go both ways,” Winfield said. “I think clubs are going to be hesitant. Right now, it’s a great selling point, but to play 162 games of offense, defense, pitching, you know, that’s a difficult thing to do. Organizations know these people best and they’ll see what the best choice is going to be for them.”
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.