When the Twins signed former Japanese batting champ Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a three-year, $9.25 million deal before the 2011 season, they were taking a chance the middle infielder could buck the historical trend running against his chances of becoming a star in the majors.
Of the 53 Japanese-born players to reach the major leagues, only two (Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui) have recorded more than 1,000 hits. Ichiro, Matsui and Kosuke Fukudome are the only three with a career on-base-plus-slugging percentage above .750. The differences in the culture, the style of the game and the level of competition have kept most Japanese players from being much more than serviceable pros or short-term curiosities.
Time will tell if Nishioka can turn things around. But for now, he's going to attempt to do it by learning in the minors. The Twins sent Nishioka to Class AAA Rochester on Monday adding another chapter to a frustrating story for him in the major leagues.
It seemed unlikely that the 27-year-old would make the Opening Day roster, but to see him sent to the minors this early, with 11 other players in the Twins' second round of spring training cuts, was unexpected. Still, Nishioka was making many of the same mistakes he made last season on routine plays, struggling to get into position for cutoff throws and mishandling ground balls after he'd rushed to field them. And he was hitting only .240 in nine games after missing time with a sprained left pinky finger.