Tsuyoshi Nishioka Will Improve in 2012


.226/.278/.249 – Player A

.226/.267/.276 – Player B

One of these slash lines represents Tsuyoshi Nishioka‘s slash line in his first year in Major League Baseball.  Nishioka only played 68 games in 2011, partially because he suffered a broken leg early in the season and missed significant playing time, and partially because he was so ineffective and the Twins were so far out of contention that they spent the last part of the season exploring Trevor Plouffe‘s future at short stop (which is over, as Plouffe is going to be considered strictly for OF duties going forward).  The other slash line is the first year stats of a former Minnesota Twins short stop who went on to an 11 year MLB career and became a two time All-Star.

Nishioka is Player A.  In four years in the Japan Pacific League (JPPL) Nishioka owned a career slash of .304/.379./.443.  His mystery counterpart has a career Minor League slash of just .278/.314/.356.  Both players struggled mightily in the first year of service.  The other player, Player B, which you’ve probably already identified as Christian Guzman, had turned himself around offensively by this third year in the league and was at least a league average short stop for most of his next eight years in the league.

Guzman, like Nishioka, had to adjust to living in a new country, and speaking a new language, in addition to learning the nuances of baseball played at a higher level.  Guzman had three years in Minor League Baseball to adjust to an American style of baseball and to learn to speak the English language, while enjoying the benefit of being around other ball players with similar circumstances from similar background.

Conversely, Nishioka had four weeks of Spring Training to adjust to a new country, a new style of play, and a new language.  He moved half way around the world and during the 2011 season he and his wife had their first child.  Outside of the baseball world Nishioka was dealing with a tremendous amount of change.  On the baseball diamond, Nishioka was dealing with tremendous pressure and expectations, not only from the Minnesota Twins and their fans, but from millions of fans from the JPPL, who thought Nishioka might be the next Japanese import to make a big impact in Major League Baseball.

Things did not work out for Nishioka in 2011.  On top of everything he was dealing with, he suffered a serious injury early in the 2011 season that likely derailed any adjustments he was making on the field and he returned to Minnesota Twins to find a team riddled with injuries and a clubhouse filled with uncertainties surrounding their franchise player, Joe Mauer.

I am not saying that I think Nishioka will become Christian Guzman.  Nishioka doesn’t have the speed that Guzman possessed and he hasn’t displayed the competitiveness and grit that was a trademark of Guzman’s game.  Nishioka will be a better ball player in 2012.  He has a tumultuous year of change behind him and can refocus on playing baseball and focusing on things that will translate into success on the diamond.

As the Twins’ roster stands right now it sounds like Jamey Carroll has been given the starting short stop job and is expected to be an everyday starter there, which leaves Alexia Casilla and Nishioka fighting for playing time at second base (I tend to think that Carroll is a better option at 2B and that Casilla is a better fit at SS.  If Carroll is at 2B then I think Nishi is clearly a downgrade from Casilla at SS and Carroll at 2B).  If Nishioka can push Casilla during Spring Training, I think he has an opportunity to start the season at 2B, or at least win back the confidence of the Twins’ coaching staff and would be the first option off the bench.

A reliable third option in the middle infield will go a long way towards improving the 2012 Minnesota Twins.

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