Three years ago, Los Angeles Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani took to the mound in Oakland to make his first career start. His first pitch whizzed into the zone against Marcus Semien for a called strike. Three pitches later, Ohtani had his first career major league strikeout. A few days before his first start, Ohtani had recorded his first career hit. The Ohtani era was officially underway.
Two-way players are a rare bird at the major league level. Former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel is one name who comes to mind as a legitimate two-way player. Ankiel began his career with an impressive 3.46 ERA in his first 40 games. After a season marred by injury and a loss of functionality on the mound, the left-hander returned to enjoy a decent major league career as a position player.
As there are many other names to add to the list of former two-way players, it is important that we touch on those who have found legitimate success at the major league level in some facet. And, to that point, with the recent achievements of Ohtani, it remains to be seen as to whether the next generation of up-and-coming prospects who consider themselves as two-way players will open Pandora’s box to a future chock full of new talent.
Masyn Winn, RHP/SS – St. Louis Cardinals
The 54th overall pick in last summer’s ultra-condensed MLB Draft is considered a legitimate two-way player, and chances are the Cardinals may take it and run with it if given the opportunity. Texas-born and bred, Winn hails from the modestly-sized city of Kingwood. Scouts loved Winn coming out of the draft, and, at least right now, the 19-year-old seems poised to earn the opportunity as a two-way player at the professional level.
Not the biggest guy out there, Winn had been seen by scouts as one of the most athletic draft prospects, and for the Cardinals to land a guy seen as a possible first-round talent outside of the top 50 is a steal. Right now, Winn is 25 games into his first professional season at Low-A Palm Beach. Offensively, the kid has been all over the map. He is also playing nearly two and a half years below the average age for his level. Thus far, Winn is slashing .213/.342/.287 to go with his 11 stolen bases.
Winn’s slash line is intriguing. He reaches base at a slightly-above-average rate and does have some pop for a guy who probably will not be a significant power threat. Winn has been clocked at 100+ mph on the mound and carries a fastball that sits comfortably between 92-96 mph, which he will run up to 98 mph if needed. Here is what the Baseball America team had to say about Winn in their draft report.
“Teams are mixed whether Winn’s upside is higher as a pitcher or hitter. He plays the game at a quicker speed than most, but that can get him into trouble. As a position player, scouts want to see Winn slow the game down, be more consistent on routine plays at shortstop, stay within himself at the plate and chase fewer pitches out of the zone.”
Conclusively, as Winn moves through the system, the Cardinals will need to determine how they see the 19-year-old. However, he may be in line to make a legitimate run at a two-way role at the big league level.
Bubba Chandler, RHP/SS – North Oconee HS
North Oconee high school’s Bubba Chandler has a choice to make this summer: fulfill his commitment to Clemson as a two-sport athlete or commit to his path of baseball only, as a likely first-round pick in July’s amateur draft. Chandler faces a situation similar to what Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray faced when the Oakland Athletics selected him ninth overall in 2018. But, Chandler is a few years behind in terms of where Murray was. It may be a tough decision depending on who takes a shot with the kid from Georgia.
Things could go in either direction for Chandler. Teams may see him as a top-ten pick, which may make his decision more straightforward, or teams may not take that risk relative to the availability of needs and talent. Chandler has been noticed more for his work as a pitcher. His fastball has been reported to sit in the low-90s, while his curveball has been seen as his best pitch and his arm action is incredibly fluid as there is not much torque in his follow. Chandler gives off almost a right-handed Rich Hill-type vibe.
At the dish, Chandler is a switch-hitter who utilizes an inward toe-tap from the left side of the plate to develop his timing and a leg kick from the right side. It seems at present his bat is quicker from the left side, but Chandler swings a long bat with precision in an almost Cody Bellinger-type performance. He is an impressive prospect, to say the least, and one who may stick as a dual-threat if someone can wrangle him from his commitment to Clemson, as only time will tell.
Braden Montgomery, OF/RHP – Madison Central HS
Considered one of the “premier” two-way talents in this year’s draft class, Braden Montgomery could be a steal on draft day. The switch-hitting outfielder brings an impressive skill to both the prep class and the draft class as a whole, and it is a matter of time before scouts and fans know the direction in which Montgomery will go. The consensus of choosing his scholarship at Stanford seems to be what many in the game believe will happen. However, if it does not, many teams will be chomping at the bit for the youngster’s talents.
At the dish, Montgomery uses the whole field and has the necessary power from both sides. Scouts believe his approach from the right side is a little more refined than his left-handed approach, but Montgomery also has plenty of time to continue to fill out. Montgomery delivers a three-pitch mix consisting of a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a mid-70s curve, and a low-80s changeup on the mound. His delivery looks effortless, and the ball seems to fly out of his hand, whether on the mound or in the outfield. The outfield grade may be his best quality. Montgomery may still yet end up at Stanford, where it would be fun to see the two-way game continue.
Spencer Schwellenbach, SS/RHP – University of Nebraska
The last name on this list is a collegiate player, breaking the mold of prep stars in the class. Schwellenbach is a top-100 draft prospect per Baseball America’s big board (subscription required). He has seen a massive jump in his draft stock as of late, following a dominant season for the Huskers.
College players are almost always less speculative than prep players. But, even after three years at Nebraska, it’s wheels up for Schwellenbach, who could ultimately be a steal for some organization. The 21-year-old has the size and speed profile to make it on either side of the ball. The Cleveland Indians drafted Schwellenbach out of high school in 2018 in the 34th round. Now, he is likely to be selected in the first three rounds.
Schwellenbach posted a ridiculous 0.57 ERA in 31 2/3 innings over 18 games in a relief role this season. Offensively, he slashed .284/.403/.459 with six home runs and 40 RBI. He is a career .281 hitter at the collegiate level. Schwellenbach has a big fastball sitting between 94-97 mph and a mid-80s slider with a break. Schwellenbach has been described as a “true” two-way player. July will prove fruitful for both Schwellenbach and whoever calls his name.