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Tsuyoshi Nishioka

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Tsuyoshi Nishioka

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After 42 homers in high school, Tsuyoshi Nishioka was a first-round draft pick of the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2002. After some time on the farm, he came up in 2003 and was 3 for 9 with 2 doubles and 2 walks in seven games. In 2004, Nishioka became a switch-hitter and hit .255/.304/.396 as a part-timer. Becoming a full-timer at age 21, Tsuyoshi batted .268/.320/.394 in 2005. While his OPS was merely okay for a middle infielder, he showed superb defense and speed, stealing 41 bases in 50 tries to lead the Pacific League in swipes. He also led with 11 triples, one less than the next two players combined. He played 91 games at second base and 63 at short, often moving from one spot to the other as 2B Koichi Hori and SS Makoto Kosaka continued to get most of the playing time at each slot, while Nishioka overall had more AB and games than either starter. Nishioka's versatility won him an odd combination - a Gold Glove at second base and a Best Nine selection as a shortstop. He became the first player ever to win these honors in the same year at different positions. He also led the PL with a .377 average with runners in scoring position. He hit .294/.333/.353 (though caught in both steal attempts) in the 2005 Japan Series as Chiba Lotte swept the Hanshin Tigers in four straight.

Nishioka then played in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and the 22-year-old led the tournament with five stolen bases and was among the leaders in hits, runs and total bases. After the 2005 season, Chiba Lotte let former Rookie of the Year Kosaka go to free up the starting shortstop spot for the fast-footed phenom. In 2006, Nishioka hit .282/.358/.390 and stole 33 bases. He was part of a four-way tie for the PL lead in triples, tied Benny Agbayani for 7th with 49 walks and led in steals, but also in times caught (17).

Nishioka was 4 for 14 with a walk in Japan's winning effort in the 2007 Asian Championship as they locked up a spot in the 2008 Olympics. Used as a DH and a second baseman in the 2008 Olympics, Nishioka was Japan's top hitter, batting .455/.556/.636 with 6 runs in 8 games; he stole successfully in both of his tries. He hit a 2-run homer against the host Chinese national team and scored both runs for Japan in their 6-2 semifinal loss to the South Korean national team. Japan wound up without a Medal despite Nishioka's success in Beijing. Discounting the medal round, Nishioka was third in the Olympics in average (.438), behind Alexei Bell and Yong-kyu Lee and 4th in slugging (.688), behind Bell, Dae-ho Lee and Nick Weglarz. He tied for the most steals in the first round (2), even with Giorvis Duvergel, Masahiro Araki, Hyun-soo Kim, Eduardo Paret, Jong-wook Lee and Lingfeng Sun.

On November 15, 2010, it was announced that the Chiba Lotte Marines had placed Nishioka's name on the posting system. The reigning Pacific League batting champion at the time, with an average of .346 in 2010, he was expected to attract significant attention from major league teams. The Minnesota Twins won his bidding rights, and on December 17 announced that they had signed him for three years for $9.25 million. He was the Twins' starting second baseman on Opening Day, April 1, 2011 against the Toronto Blue Jays after hitting .345 in spring training. He went 1 for 4 in his major league debut, although it took a phenomenal play by pitcher Casey Janssen, who dove to his left and shoveled the ball with his glove to first baseman Adam Lind while lying on his stomach to beat him by half a step and deprive him of a second hit. He was hitting .208 in six games when he suffered a serious injury in a game against the New York Yankees on April 7. He was involved in a collision at second base with Nick Swisher, who was sliding hard to break up a potential double play, fracturing his fibula. Nishioka's failure to get out of Swisher's way may have had a cultural component: it is rare in Japan for players to slide hard to attempt to break up a double play, and Nishioka, who had played mainly shortstop in Japan, was still mastering the pivot at the time of the accident. Swisher apologized, stating he had meant no harm and Nishioka conceded that it had been his mistake not to move out of the way more quickly. Nishioka was back in the line-up on June 16th, this time playing the more familiar shortstop position. He played 68 games that season, 60 at shortstop and 6 at second base, but hit only .226/.278/.249, with only 5 extra-base hits, all of them doubles, 14 runs and 19 RBI in a very disappointing season. He spent most of 2012 with the AAA Rochester Red Wings, hitting .258 with 2 homers and 34 RBI in 101 games. He played 3 games for the Twins, going 0 for 12, but on September 28th, he asked and was granted his unconditional release, walking away from a guaranteed $3.25 million for the following season. he explained: "I take full responsibility for my performance which was below my own expectations. At this time, I have made the decision that it is time to part ways. I have no regrets and know that only through struggle can a person grow stronger."

Sources: Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland, [1], 2008 Olympics

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