Kensuke Tanaka (田中 賢介)
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 5' 9", Weight 168 lb.
- High School Higashi Fukuoka High School
- Debut July 10, 2013
Kensuke Tanaka made the majors in 2013 after more than a decade playing in Japan.
Tanaka was a second-round draft pick of the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2000 and he went 1 for 5 for the team that year. In 2001, the young infielder hit .141/.239/.263 in 116 plate appearances, an inauspicious beginning. The next year, the left-handed hitter batted .253/.298/.348 as one of several second basemen to see regular action with Nippon Ham; he easily outhit Hiroshi Narahara, their main option.
In 2003, Tanaka was one of three Nippon Ham second sackers to appear in 40 or more games and he hit only .216/.268/.304. Tanaka only played 21 games for the Fighters in 2004 (.325/.372/.575) and 22 games for them in 2005 (.208/.321/.333).
Tanaka got his big break in 2006 when free agent signee Jose Macias proved to be a bust and Tanaka finally got the starting nod at second base. He hit .301/.358/.415 and stole 21 bases in 28 tries while leading the Pacific League with 34 sacrifice hits. He was 10th in the PL in runs (68), tied for 5th in triples (6), was 6th in steals and just missed the top 10 in average. He won a Gold Glove and made the Best Nine as the top second baseman in the league. He followed by hitting .313/.313/.375 in the 2006 Japan Series as Nippon Ham won its first Japan Series title ever. Tanaka set a Japan Series record with 6 sacrifice hits.
In 2007, Kensuke fell to .255/.321/.344 and stole 27 but was caught stealing 14 times. He laid down 58 sacrifice hits, leading the PL once more, 23 ahead of anyone else. He set a franchise record for sacrifices, broken 9 years later by Takuya Nakashima. He tied Munenori Kawasaki for second in the league in triples (7), one behind Daisuke Hayakawa. He tied Tsuyoshi Nishioka for 5th in steals but led in times caught stealing. He again won a Gold Glove and was again named to the Best Nine. He struggled mightily in the 2007 Japan Series, going only 1 for 18.
Tanaka made his first PL All-Star team in 2008 and also got a Gold Glove; he hit .297/.379/.451 for the year with 32 doubles, 9 triples, 89 runs and 21 steals in 28 tries. He finished among the league leaders in runs (2nd, one behind Takeya Nakamura), doubles (tied for 4th with Hiroyuki Nakajima and Mitsutaka Goto), hits (159, tied for 6th with Alex Cabrera), triples (second, one behind Nobuhiro Matsuda), sacrifice hits (26, 2nd, 6 behind Yosuke Takasu), total bases (242, 8th, between Nakajima and Takeshi Yamasaki), walks (tied for 4th with Cabrera at 62), steals (5th, between Nakajima and Kawasaki) and OBP (6th, between Atsunori Inaba and Takumi Kuriyama). Yasuyuki Kataoka beat him out for the Best Nine.
Kensuke remained a productive OBP-and-speed guy in 2009, batting .283/.373/.372 with 31 steals (caught 11 times), 34 doubles, 79 walks and 93 runs. He was second in the PL in runs (7 behind Nakajima), 3rd in hits (163, behind Nakajima and Tomotaka Sakaguchi), tied for 4th in doubles (with G.G. Sato), led in walks (4 ahead of runner-up Nakajima), 4th in steals (after Kataoka, Kawasaki and Yuichi Honda) and 10th in OBP. He won both a Gold Glove and a Best Nine pick (his third in four years). After three regular-season homers, he took Wirfin Obispo deep in game 3 of the 2009 Japan Series. He went 9 for 25 with two walks, a triple, the homer and five runs in that Series but the Fighters lost to the Yomiuri Giants.
Things didn't slow down in 2010 as he produced at a .335/.408/.417 clip, stole 34 bases in 44 attempts, drew 66 walks and scored 88 runs. He made his second All-Star team, won the Gold Glove and was picked to his fourth Best Nine. He was second in the PL in average (.011 behind Tsuyoshi Nishioka), second in hits (193, 13 behind Nishioka), tied Honda and Tadahito Iguchi for third in runs, was 5th in walks (between Tae-kyun Kim and Yoshio Itoi), was third in steals (trailing Kataoka and Honda) and ranked 4th in OBP (behind Cabrera, Nishioka and Iguchi).
To that point, Tanaka had 620 consecutive games played but he broke a finger in spring training. Then, in June, his season ended due to a broken ankle. For the 2011 campaign, he had hit .290/.344/.345 with 8 steals in 11 tries and 25 runs in 49 games. The Fighters wound up replacing him with former major leaguer Bobby Scales. While healthy again in 2012, the veteran was not up to his past standards (.300/.350/.363, 13 SB, 49 R). He still tied Seiichi Uchikawa for 4th in average, tied Esteban German for 9th in hits (139) and tied Aarom Baldiris for 7th in OBP. He made the All-Star team and won the Best Nine, but missed the 2012 Japan Series due to injury (the Fighters lost to the Giants).
The San Francisco Giants took a gamble on the fading and injured Tanaka, signing him to a minor league contract for 2013. He began the season excellently for the Fresno Grizzlies (.330/.392/.394, 20 SB, 43 R in 78 G) and was called up when Cole Gillespie was designated for assignment on July 10th. The Giants planned to use him initially in left field rather than his lifelong position of second base to get his bat into the lineup. In his major league debut, he hit second and played left. He lined out his first two trips up against Dillon Gee of the New York Mets, then singled in the 5th. In the 7th, he drew a walk from Gee and scored on a sacrifice fly from Pablo Sandoval. He grounded out in the 8th. He had a putout in his lone chance at his new spot.
- Japan Baseball Daily by Gary Garland
- Japanesebaseball.com by Michael Westbay
- Japanese Wikipedia entry