September 20, 2011; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics third baseman Scott Sizemore (29) returns to the dugout after striking out against the Texas Rangers during the fourth inning at Coliseum. Texas defeated Oakland 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-USA TODAY Sports

Middle Infield Problems, Depth Could Play Important Role Early

Thus far, Hiroyuki Nakajima does not appear to be the “hero” Athletics fans have been waiting for at the shortstop position.

The Athletics signed the Japanese born player to a two-year deal this off-season to replace Cliff Pennington and Stephen Drew, who both played shortstop for the A’s last year.

Dec 18, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima poses for photos with his jersey during a press conference announcing his signing at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

According to CBS Sports baseball insider Danny Knobler,  “A’s people” have been very “unimpressed” by Nakajima and consider the shortstop position to be “open.”

Nakajima has played in ten spring training games and has a slash line of .250/.357/.292. He has also struck out ten times in twenty-four at-bats.

There has been nothing to like about his spring training. Instead, it raises question marks for the Athletics.

The thing that has stood out the most about the 2013 Oakland Athletics heading into the season is how much depth there is on the roster. This depth was supposed to be ammunition the A’s could have at their disposal throughout the season — it might become utilized much sooner then expected.

One major piece of that depth is shortstop Jed Lowrie. The A’s traded for him during the off-season and planned to use him all over the infield. Since the team traded away first baseman Chris Carter in the package that landed Lowrie, it was expected that he would play an important role as a platoon option for A’s manager Bob Melvin at first base — this makes sense considering he is a right-handed hitter (Brandon Moss hits left-handed) that can hit for power. But now that Nakajima is struggling to impress, Lowrie might see plenty of playing time at shortstop. Lowrie has a slash line of .375/.483/.708 so far this spring training.

Lets not forget we cannot expect Nakajima to adjust to Major League Baseball instantaneously. The game he played in Japan is much different — and a lot slower — than the baseball he is playing in the United States. I mean, he hadn’t even hit off a tee before working with A’s hitting coach Chili Davis and that is how most of us start playing the game.

We also cannot try to compare him to Yoenis Cespedes either. Yes, I know, Cespedes had to deal with all of the same obstacles that Nakajima is trying to overcome, but they are two totally different players and the speed in which Cespedes developed last year was remarkable. All we can do is hope that Nakajima can get some advice from Cespedes (using interpreters of course) and apply those things to help him adjust to the new game and lifestyle he is being exposed to in America.

Lets look at other possible options at shortstop and at second base as well. 

Since Knobler also reported that “A’s people” have not been impressed with Scott Sizemore at second base this spring training, the predicament the A’s find themselves in becomes more difficult. Sizemore, who is coming off an injury that sidelined him for the entire 2012 season, has a spring training slash line of .143/.345/.143.

The team needs to figure out what to do at both middle infield positions.

Everyone has wondered about the future of Jemile Weeks. The once only labeled “untouchable” player on the team found himself demoted to Triple-A Sacramento late last season and is now battling it out with Sizemore for the second base job. Although Jemile Weeks’ shoulder injury seemed to put him behind Sizemore in position for the starting job, that might not be the case anymore with the lack of production from Sizemore.

Weeks started spring training red-hot before getting hurt. He only has eleven at-bats in 4 games but he has an impressive slash line of .545/.538/.1000.

At the start of spring it looked as if the Athletics double play combo would consist of Nakajima at shortstop and Sizemore at second. But if things continue to go the way they have this spring, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the A’s double play combo be Lowrie at shortstop and Weeks at second on opening day.

Either way, the Athletics will need a pair of middle infielders to come to the rescue and put together a lethal double play combo.

What do you think the A’s should do at shortstop and second base?


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Tags: Hiroyuki Nakajima Oakland Athletics Scott Sizemore

  • Christopher Yow

    What has the defense looked like from Nakajima so far? Same for Sizemore. Post surgery, does he have range and mobility issues, or are we disappointed solely based on the plate appearances?

    • Kevin Mendez

      Nakajima’s defense has been considered average at best. Taking into consideration what you said about Sizemore’s injury and his comeback, I’m sure the A’s aren’t to critical about his defense since that will definitely take time to get him moving on the field at full strength. I really think they are disappointed with his offensive production. Luckily, it’s a long season and we all remember what happened with Josh Donaldson last year — he struggled at the start but became a huge part of the team and put up monster numbers at the end of the season.

  • Jamahn Lee

    I think we should reserve judgement on Nakajima. There’s a lot of ugliness that happens in Spring Training as people work themselves back into shape and as, in Nakajima’s case, figure out how to play in the MLB. I still think he has a chance to be solid and that’s really all anyone can ask. Solid would probably be a lot better than the offensive production that we had from SS last year anyway.

    • Kevin Mendez

      I agree with you but unfortunately at the MLB level (especially with a contending team) performance is expected right away since the first few games are just as important as the last few games. I think the Lowrie trade was made as a safety precaution just in case something like this happened. If the people from the A’s are going public on something like this I think it’s a bad sign. I also think he can give more production at shortstop than what the A’s received last year, but Lowrie should be able to do that too. It might be best for the A’s to slowly ease Nakajima into a significant role and let his confidence build up.

      • Jamahn Lee

        After seeing how things have gone since this post I would agree. My hope is that Hiro can get a good comfort level, perhaps at AA to start. In the meantime, we’re pretty lucky to have Lowrie.