Tsuyoshi Nishioka – where are you?

Will Nishioka be smiling in a Twins uniform in 2012? (Courtesy of MinnPost)

Leading into the 2011 season the Twins big news was the signing of Japanese star shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The man was going to solidify the infield and lead the Twins to the promised land of getting past round one of the playoffs. When I showed up in Fort Myers before spring training started all I heard from everyone I met was “have you seen Nishioka”?

When the smoke cleared, the Twins and Nishioka decided that 2B was really the position that Nishioka felt the most comfortable playing. Unfortunately for the Twins and Nishioka, a take-out slide by Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher at Yankee Stadium broke Nishioka’s fibula on April 7th in Nishioka’s sixth Twins game and Nishioka would not return again until June 16. Nishioka ended up playing shortstop when he returned but he looked like a fish out water, he just did not look like nor play like a big league shortstop. When the Twins season finally came to merciful end, Nishioka had played in 66 games and he hit .226, had a .278 OBP, stole 2 out of 6 bases and committed 10 errors. This was hardly what the Twins expected for $3 million a season. Then again, when you play for a team that wins just 63 games, there is plenty of bad play from everyone.

But now a year has gone by and you have to wonder what the future holds for Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The Twins have acquired Jamey Carroll to be their everyday shortstop and Alexi Casilla is penciled in as the starting 2B. Twins management hardly ever mentions Nishioka and it is almost like the man does not even exist or that they hope he just disappears. The Twins will be paying Nishioka $3 million in 2012 and again in 2013 and then there is the 2014 option for $250K. The Twins do not pay that kind of money for a Rochester Red Wing.

I think you have to give Nishioka a mulligan for 2011 because he can not possibly be as bad a player as he showed us last year. The man was a star in Japan and I know that major league ball is something totally different, but still, he was a very good player in Japan. He had to have shown something to the Twins scouts and management to have gotten the deal he did.

What do I think will happen? I think Nishioka will start 2012 as a Twins bench player but when Carroll proves to the Twins why he has always been a utility player by the middle of May, Nishioka will start to see some playing time and maybe then we will find out once and for all if the man can play in the big leagues or if the Twins simply were snookered. If Nishioka turns out to be a dud, this signing should go down in Twins lore as the worst acquisition in Twins history and over the years they have made some bad ones.

I think Nishioka is a player worth watching as spring training unfolds. Will Nishioka be handled with kid gloves like he was last year or will Gardy and TK get after Nishioka when he makes a bad play? How much games will Nishioka play here in Fort Myers? Will he be off by himself and his interpreter like he was frequently last year or will he try to be part of the team? Yep, I think it will be an interesting spring training for Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

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