Well, the Oakland Athletics may have found what they were looking for.
After many weeks of restless waiting and copious amounts of frustration at the lack of viable options on both the free agent and trade market, the Athletics finally introduced Hiroyuki Nakajima as their starting shortstop in 2013. During Tuesday’s introductory press conference, Nakajima charmed the press and fanbase with a series of smiles and good natured jokes, making quite the first impression.
An impression however, is really all we have regarding our 30-year old Japanese import. Spending the entirety of his professional career in the Japanese League, there is no accurate barometer to measure just how well his skills will translate to Major League Baseball. While it appears he can handle the bat as evident by his .310/.381/.474 lifetime batting line, there are concerns about his fielding ability. Scouts have questioned both his arm and his range at shortstop, but to his credit Nakajima did earn the Japanese equivalent of the Gold Glove as recently as 2008.
For now, a series of amusing and impressive highlight videos available for viewing on YouTube will have to suffice as a preview for what A’s fans can hope to expect from Nakajima in 2013. As the flashy Nakajima showcases his speed, energy, and power one can’t help but flash back to a similar introduction of another international unknown, Yoenis Cespedes. While they are obviously completely different players of age, position, and potential; the sense of the unknown regarding either player is eerily similar. Of course, the comparisons stop there as we look toward his fellow countrymen to provide a gauge on what to expect.
Regarding the transition from the NPB to the MLB for position players, the results vary on what to expect. We have the awesome (Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui), the average (Aki Iwamura, Tsuyoshi Shinjo), and the absurdly bad (Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Munenori Kawasaki). To be honest, any type of offensive boost Nakajima provides at shortstop will be a boost, as the 2012 duo of Cliff Pennington and Stephen Drew combined to hit a meager .203 with 12 home runs and 43 RBI’s.
The jury is out, on what type of player Nakajima will be. The A’s believe in him, enough to do their due diligence, offer a multi-year deal and hand over the keys to shortstop. For that very reason, Hiro will have every chance to become our hero in 2013 and beyond.