Impact Of Nishioka’s Addition To Twins Would Be Tough To Predict

I blogged last week about the Minnesota Twins being awarded exclusive negotiating rights with Japanese middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

I mentioned in that post how it was unusual to see a Midwest team win the bidding, since seemingly the majority of well-known Japanese imports (Hideki Matsui, Ichiro, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideo Nomo, etc.) have ended up on the West or East Coasts.

But according to Minneapolis Star Tribune writer Joe Christensen, Nishioka sounds pretty excited about the possibility of playing for the Twins if a contract agreement can be reached.

Nishioka is coming off a career-best season in which he hit a Japanese Pacific League-leading .346. He can play both shortstop and second base.

You could argue that infielders from Japan have had the least amount of major league success when compared to other position players or pitchers from that country. The three Japanese infielders that come to mind are Tadahito Iguchi, Kaz Matsui and Akinori Iwamura.

The first conclusion I would draw from this is that power does not transfer over well from the JPL to Major League Baseball. In fact, it virtually disappears. But in looking at the three infielders above, speed actually does. Two of those three actually stole more bases in their first seasons in MLB, despite playing in far fewer games in each case.

For Nishioka, that’s not terrible news. Last season, he was more speedy (22 steals, has a career high of 33) than powerful (11 homers, career high is 14). And at Target Field, it’s safe to say he would be nothing more than a gap hitter.

The other thing to keep in mind is age. Nishioka would be the youngest of the group, being only 26 years old on Opening Day 2011. Iguchi was 30 when he started out. Matsui was 28 when he debuted with the Mets. And Iwamura was 28 in his first season in Tampa.

So Nishioka, at least in terms of age, has more good years ahead of him than his predecessors. But at the same time, his skills could be less refined. His rate of efficiency in stealing bases in Japan isn’t the greatest. No doubt that the Twins wouldn’t mind getting Rod Carew or Paul Molitor to help him out in that area should he sign with the team.

Iguchi and Iwamura have actually been pretty good players at one time or another in the big leagues. The problem is neither aged (or in Iwamura’s case, appears to be aging) very well. But that’s not hard to understand when you consider that in Japan, they both relied heavily on the home run. In the United States, that ability was diminished (though in Iguchi’s case, he had 33 homers combined between 2005 and 2006).

There’s no doubt the Twins would be taking a gamble in signing Nishioka. But considering how weak the free-agent market is with middle infielders this year, it’s a gamble worth considering.

Minnpost’s Aaron Gleeman gives his take on Nishioka here.

Here’s a video of an ad that Nishioka did in Japan:

5 Responses

  1. Brian

    I could very well be wrong, but the more i read about this, the less excited I am, I don’t really see how this guy is much different than casilla(who granted, can be wildly inconsistent), or, i hate to say it, even punto. seems like another weak hitting middle infielder, which the twins already have plenty of.

  2. I am all for the Nishioka signing. At only a $5.3 million posting fee it seems like a risk worth taking. When compared to other Japanese players that have been posted at that ammount, we should expect the Twins to sign him for somewhere close to 3 years $12 million-$15 million.

    The only problem I have with this is that it most likely means JJ Hardy is traded. The Twins have made it clear that they are looking for more speed and they want to upgrade it in the middle infield. I feel they are looking in the wrong area to do this, they should be looking in Center Field. That is a whole different topic for discussion. Back to the Hardy situation. My wish would be Hardy at SS and Nishioka put at 2B with Casilla used as a utility infielder. This would most likely spell the end of the Punto/Tolbert. Casilla proved last year that he can be a great utility player but has shown in the past that he cannot handle being a full time player.

    The only way I am fine with Hardy being traded would be in a situation where it brings back some great return. First team that comes to mind is the Giants. They are in need of a SS now that Uribe has signed with the rival Dodgers. The Twins need a strong throwing starting pitcher. Hardy + Baker/Slowey and maybe a low level single A prospect for Jonathan Sanchez really intrigues me. A deal like that is about the only way I am comfortable with Hardy leaving. Otherwise Nishioka needs to be moved to 2B and Hardy needs to be retained.

  3. I agree with your take on the Hardy situation. I think I mentioned that last week on this blog. Going into the season with Nishioka/Casilla as a starting middle infield combo is a really dangerous idea. Unless the Twins have some grand plans with a Hardy package, I wouldn’t just trade him for relief help. I mean, really, what would Hardy alone net them?

  4. Pingback : Twins salary purge leaves middle infield looking weak | Goethe's sports blog

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