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Hiroyuki Nakajima

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Note: This page is for the infielder from the 2000s; for the pitcher of the same name who played in the 1950s and 1960s, click here

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Hiroyuki Nakajima (中島 裕之)

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[edit] Biographical Information

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Hiroyuki Nakajima was the shortstop for the Seibu Lions for a number of years, having succeeded Kazuo Matsui in that role. On December 7, 2011 the New York Yankees acquired his rights via the posting system.

Nakajima was a 5th-round pick of the Seibu Lions in 2001. He was 1 for 7 for Seibu in 2002, spending most of the year at ni-gun and playing well. In 2003, Hiroyuki hit .258/.327/.449 in 44 games for Seibu, backing up Scott McClain at third base. When Kazuo Matsui left for the US after that season, Nakajima became Seibu's shortstop and filled in admirably, batting .287/.349/.504 with 27 home runs and 90 RBI. He also stole 18 bases in 20 tries and did much better than one would expect from a #7 hitter. He was 7th in the Pacific League in RBI, 8th in homers, 9th in total bases (253), 4th in strikeouts (108) and tied Tadahito Iguchi for 4th in steals. He failed to make the Best Nine at SS in the PL as Munenori Kawasaki was chosen instead. He made the PL All-Star team. He hit .240/.321/.520 with two home runs in the 2004 Japan Series as Seibu won in 7 games.

In 2005, Nakajima fell to .274/.327/.417 with 11 steals and 11 home runs in a significant drop-off from his first year as a starter. He was 7th in the league in steals and tied with 4th with 11 times hit by pitch. The next year, the Itami native contributed with a batting line of .306/.386/.481 batting line, 76 runs, 16 home runs and 14 steals in 18 tries. He was moved up to third in the lineup. He was 8th in the PL in average, 4th in runs (behind Hichori Morimoto, Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Michihiro Ogasawara), tied Julio Zuleta for the lead in times plunked (13), was 7th in OBP, 9th in slugging and 8th in swipes. He made his second All-Star team.

In 2007, Nakajima batted .300/.361/.439 with 28 doubles, 74 RBI and just 12 home runs. He started the year in the third spot but G.G. Sato took over the role later in the season. Nakajima finished 5th in the PL in average, tied three others for 6th with 28 doubles, was 9th in runs (68), tied for 4th in triples (5), was 7th in total bases (234), was 10th in RBI, was third in strikeouts (134), tied Atsunori Inaba for 4th in times hit by pitch (13) and was 10th in both OBP and slugging. He was on the Japanese team for the 2008 Olympics, hitting .296/.424/.444 as their primary shortstop; they failed to get a Medal. In the preliminary phase, Nakajima was 10th with a .366 average.

Nakajima hit .331/.410/.527 with 25 steals (in 30 tries), 32 doubles and 21 homers in 2008. He lost the PL batting title by .001 to Rick Short, tied for 4th in doubles, tied G.G. Sato for 9th in homers, was 9th in RBI (81), 6th in walks (55), led in OBP (.016 ahead of Alex Cabrera and Tuffy Rhodes), was 5th in slugging and 4th in steals. He was second to Hisashi Iwakuma in voting for the 2008 Pacific League Most Valuable Player Award. He won a Gold Glove and made the Best Nine as the PL's top shortstop. Hiroyuki hit .323/.414/.600 with 7 runs and 2 homers in the 2008 Japan Series to lead Seibu to the title. His homer off Koji Uehara in game one was the winning hit in a 2-1 victory. His 2-run home run against Hisanori Takahashi provided all of Seibu's runs in a 3-2 loss in game 2.

Nakajima was Japan's top hitting starter when they won the 2009 World Baseball Classic as he batted .364/.516/.545 with 6 RBI in seven games; he missed two contests due to the flu. He hit four doubles to tie Miguel Cabrera and Atsunori Inaba for third in the tourney; two of the doubles came in the semifinal win over the USA. In the finals, Nakajima played a key role in Japan's 5-3 win. In the 3rd, he singled off Jung Bong and came home on a hit by Michihiro Ogasawara to make it 1-0. In the 7th, he singled in Yasuyuki Kataoka for a 3-1 lead. Jimmy Rollins beat him out for All-Tournament honors at SS.

After the 2011 season, Nakajima requested that his name be placed on the posting system in order to be able to play in the United States. Seibu agreed and on December 7th, it was announced that the successful bid for his services had been placed by the New York Yankees, for an estimated $2 million. However, the Yankees were unable to come to an agreement with Nakajima, whom they viewed as a potential back-up to Derek Jeter at SS and Alex Rodriguez at 3B, so he returned to Seibu for another season, after which he would become a full free agent. It was speculated that the Yankees had been surprised that their very low bid had been successful, and as a result were not prepared to offer him a contract commensurate with his experience and track record. After the 2012 season, Nakajima was now a full free agent and this time found a major league team willing to pay for his services. On December 18th, the Oakland Athletics announced that they had signed him for two years.

Sources: Japan Baseball Daily by Gary Garland, Japanesebaseball.com by Michael Westbay, 2008 Olympics, World Baseball Classic

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