Tsuyoshi Nishioka is a 26-year-old (will be turning 27 next June) switch-hitting middle infielder that currently plays for the Chiba Lotte Marines. According to NPS sources, Nishioka wants to play for the MLB, and will be asking the Marines to post him. Though he nor the Marines have not publicly done anything yet, ESPN is reporting that his posting is imminent. ESPN analyst and Nishioka's former manager, Bobby Valentine had this to say of him: "He is a good player, he is a talented kid. If he had been a college kid four or five years ago, he would have been a first-round pick. He runs faster than a lot of people. He can get a hit. He can steal a base. He can bunt. He is still developing physically and mentally. And this year, he stayed healthy all year. He has style issues, positive and negative: he likes to be noticed. How he develops will depend on what team signs him." Many in Japan consider him the most exciting young player in the NPB today. Incidentally, he wears number 7, the number of another exciting young player that we're more familiar with. Is this perhaps fate trying to tell us something?
Tsuyoshi initially broke into the NPB as an 18-year-old shortstop for the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2003. He appeared only in limited amounts in 2003, and 2004, before earning a more important role in 2005. Once he got that starting job at shortstop, he began displaying the talent that made him a first-round draft pick.
Along with two other players, Nishioka was part of a unique platoon triangle at second base and shortstop. At the end of the season, he performed better-than-average at both second base and shortstop, and has the unique honor of having won the Pacific League Golden Glove Award (The NPB Gold Glove, duh) at second base, and the Best Nine shortstop award (An NPB award given to the best overall players at each of the nine positions of each league). In 2006, he was used exclusively as a shortstop to reduce injury risks (he got banged up a bit in 2005 from constantly switching back-and-forth between the two), and raised his batting average and OBP. In both years, Tsuyoshi led the Pacific League in stolen bases, with 41 in 2005, and 33 in 2006.
In 2007, Tsuyoshi continued to improve. Though he battled through wrist and neck injuries throughout the season, he had a career high in games played and at-bats. He went on to hit .300/.366/.463, which was enough to win the Pacific League batting title. The 22-year-old continued to utilize his speed as well, and stole another 27 bases. His 2008 season would be very much the same, with him battling through wrist and neck injuries, playing 100+ games, and batting a very respectable .300/.357/.463 throughout it all. Additional foot injuries limited him to only 18 stolen bases for the year. The next season, 2009, would, again, be much of the same, in terms of injury woes. He took a step back, offensively, hitting only .260/.361/.427. The foot problems that bothered him in 2008 did not manifest themselves in 2009, though, and Nishioka managed to steal 26 bases.
In 2010, Nishioka had his best season to date. Appearing in a career-high 144 games, he hit for a .346 average, the highest in Japan's Pacific League since Ichiro Suzuki. The rest of his slash line was, obviously, very good, as his OBP was .423, he slugged .482, and ended his season with a .905 OPS. Nishioka ran the bases well, stealing 22 bases. The minor injury problems to his wrists, neck, and feet that had continually bugged him through the proceeding three years did not hold him back, and as a result, the 25-year-old was able to live up to the expectations that many had seen in him when he was drafted.
Though his offense is fairly good, Nishioka is better known for his defensive prowess at both shortstop and second base, but primarily shortstop. NPB scouts believe that he has extraordinarily quick reflexes, and possesses the best range of all NPB shortstops in the game currently. He also has a very strong throwing arm- he clocked 88 MPH on the radar when throwing pitches during a pre-game contest between players in 2006.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka is also known to have something of a quirky personality. Over the years, he went back-and-forth as to what was displayed on the back of his jersey. Normally, NPB players have their surname, in kanji, displayed on the back of their jerseys. In 2007, he decided that he would have his given name, Tsuyoshi, displayed on the back of his jersey, and in the Latin alphabet, rather than in kanji. In 2008, he flip-flopped to a degree, and had the Marines refer to him as Tsuyoshi Nishioka in all official publications once more, while still wearing "Tsuyoshi" on his back.
There's that, plus this very inspiring Adidas commercial:
The Oakland A's recently won the rights to bid for the Rakuten Golden Eagles' 29-year-old RHP Hisashi Iwakuma for a reported $15 million dollars. Nishioka, like Iwakuma, is fairly young for an NPB player seeking to test his mettle in North America. As a result, his stock will rise. Nishioka, like Iwakuma, is coming off of a career-year where he won NPB hardware. As a result, his stock will rise. Nishioka, like Iwakuma, is a premier player at a premier position. As a result, his stock will rise. The 2011 MLB free agent list for middle infielders has a lot of names- some of them big names- but is generally considered fairly weak. As a result, his stock will rise. Tsuyoshi has a history of injury, and this will mitigate his price, but I think that the positives that he brings to the table outweigh the few negatives.
All in all, I wouldn't find it unreasonable for Nishioka, if he is posted- and, I hope he is- to fetch somewhere between $15 and $25 million dollars for the Chiba Lotte Marines. He is, after all, a versatile middle infielder who possesses tremendous speed- and, speed is one thing that always translates, whether it be Japanese NPB, American MLB, Mexican LMB, and so on.
If his posting fee does indeed go for anywhere between $15 and $25 million dollars, that's a fairly steep initial price, but I personally think that Alderson should go for it, and that Mets fans should not expect Kaz Matsui, Part II. Nishioka has displayed a tremendous amount of talent, and has put up very impressive numbers over the last couple of years (made somewhat more impressive by the fact that he had so many injury plagued seasons). Bobby Valentine believes that if he comes to the MLB, he will be better at second base than he will at shortstop. Luis Castillo isn't a particularly valuable player anymore, and one of the strongest arguments for keeping him is that there isn't anybody on the market who is a tremendous upgrade over him. In Nishioka, he is a tremendous improvement over Castillo. Tsuyoshi will just now be entering into his prime, and can be a cornerstone of the club for the next few years, short he become a New York Met. That's my stance. Plus, as my hero, Captain Zapp Brannigan says, "...the quickest way to a girl's bed is through her parents. Have sex with them and you're in." There's plenty of talent in the NPB, and some of them may be heading to North America fairly soon. Making the Mets a more attractive landing spot for this premier NPB talent is something that can pay dividends for years and years to come.
Addendum: Apparently, like two days or so after I finish writing this, but before I get to post it, everybody and their mother suddenly starts writing about how Nishioka should/is going to be posted, and how awesome he is/will be, from MLB Network, to Yahoo!, and others. What the hell, man? I will admit, their articles did allow me to go back into mine and coax out some details that I previously didn't have/include, so...