4 Reasons Hiroyuki Nakajima Will Win the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Award

Nick HouserCorrespondent IIJanuary 15, 2013

4 Reasons Hiroyuki Nakajima Will Win the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Award

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    Oakland A's shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima is going to win the 2013 A.L. Rookie of the Year Award.

    Say that again?

    Sure.

    Oakland A's shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima is going to win the 2013 A.L. Rookie of the Year Award.

    The 30-year-old Japanese-born infielder is not only new to the Athletics, he'll be taking his first stab at Major League Baseball as well. That qualifies him as—you guessed it—a rookie.

    "Hero" stands a great chance at winning the award in 2013.

    Now before you think I'm off my rocker, consider these reasons. If you're still not a believer, by all means, call me crazy. But when and if it does happen, you heard it here first, friends.

Bonus Reason: Spotlight

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    Now I will be the first to admit this isn't the most compelling argument in the world, hence it's listed as a notion separate from the more sensible list you'll find up ahead.

    It stands to reason that many eyes will be on Nakajima in 2013, and that could help his case.

    Think about it: The A's just won the AL West in 2012. They'll look to continue their incredible story by repeating in '13. The key, likely, is to get past the Los Angeles Angels who, for the second year in a row, have thrown cash at free agents like it's nobody's business.

    The spotlight is on Oakland.

    The Athletics were fairly quiet in the offseason. They've made one major trade for Chris Young and signed Nakajima. While the moves themselves aren't overwhelmingly alluring, the man nicknamed Hero is fascinating.

    From his soon-to-be-famous bat flip to his reason for signing with the A's (It has to do with Billy Beane's sexiness—I wish I could say I was making that up), the legend of Nakajima is growing.

    And with it, more spotlight.

    The only way this becomes a factor in Rookie of the Year voting is if Nakajima goes toe-to-toe with a rookie few have heard.

    Say he and Minnesota Twins prospect Miguel Sano have similar stats. If it's close, you can bet the award goes to Nakajima for the above mentioned status he arrived with.

How Do We Know He's Good? Look at His Stats.

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    So why is this guy being touted already?

    Easy answer: He's legit.

    In the last seven years with the Seibu Lions, Hiroyuki Nakajima has hit above .300 all but once. The year he didn't, he hit .297.

    In the last six years, he's averaged 162 hits, 30 doubles, 17 home runs, 86 RBI, 53 walks and a .310 batting average. All that in about 136 games a year.

    There's questions of whether his game will transfer over (we'll get to that soon). Nakajima has been compared to Hideki Matsui in the past, and scouts have projected him to be a .270 to .280 hitter in the big leagues.

    If he hits No. 2, he'll benefit from Coco Crisp in front of him (speed on the basepaths) and Yoenis Cespedes, Seth Smith, Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss or Chris Carter behind him (power). If he hits low in the lineup, he'll still have these guys hitting closely behind him.

    Still not convinced?

    Check out Jeff Sullivan's incredibly detailed analysis of Nakajima on FanGraphs.com. Sullivan sums his report up by saying this:

    Hiroyuki Nakajima might not work out with the A’s, he might not work out at all, but in that event, we won’t be able to glance at his Japanese numbers and see a decline we overlooked. He was terrific all along.

But Can He Make It Here? He Stands a Solid Chance.

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    On the slide prior, I provided a link to Jeff Sullivan's take from FanGraphs.com. I also mentioned he has been compared to Hideki Matsui. Hideki was a career .282 hitter, but that number is somewhat skewed because, after turning 35, his stats began to dip considerably.

    Matsui arrived on the MLB scene at 29 years old. He hit .287 and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. At 30, he hit .298.

    Hiroyuki Nakajima enters the league at 30 years old and with comparisons to a guy nicknamed Godzilla. If the comparison yields true, Nakajima should do very well for himself.

    But what about other foreign, first-year players?

    Point to Tsuyoshi Nishioka who tanked, and I will give you a former Rookie of the Year in Ichiro Suzuki. Both of these men came over at a younger age by the way. 

    Look at guys more in the middle. There's Norichika Aoki who hit .288 in his first year, placing fifth in ROY voting. Or there's Yoenis Cespedes (not all comparisons have to be Japanese player to Japanese player). He hit .292 and finished second to Mike Trout.

    Cespedes placed second, Aoki fifth, Matsui second and Ichiro first.

    It's doable. Oh yes, it's very doable.

    He may not have played in Major League Baseball, but Nakajima is accustomed to bigger games beyond what he's experienced with the Seibu Lions. It's worth noting Hiro has played for Team Japan in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and in the 2009 World Baseball Classic in which Japan won.

He'll Have Competition, but He Can Overcome Them

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    In September 2012, MLB.com updated its Top 100 Prospects list. Looking at it, you'll notice the five best-rated players all hail from the American League.

    There's Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers. But the Rangers don't currently have a spot open for him until they figure out what to do with Elvis Andrus.

    Then there's Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays.

    The highly touted prospect, though talented in the minors, has as much experience in Major League Baseball as Hiroyuki Nakajima does. Like most top-10 prospects, Myers comes with question marks.

    There's no denying that he appears talented now, but as Cliff Corcoran of SI.com points out, "58 percent [of top-10 prospects from 2000-05], fell below [the] standard, making them something between a disappointment and an outright bust."

    The point is, not every top-10 player makes it. Flaming out is a possibility for anyone.

    Nakajima may not have MLB experience, but no one else on the Top 100 list has considerable experience either. In fact, most are so young, they have little experience outside of college and some minor league opportunities.

    Nakajima's age and the variety of experiences he's had (Japan, Olympics, WBC) may prove advantageous.

What's His Final Trump Card? More Time Than the Rest.

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    The Oakland Athletics lack options at shortstop beyond Hiroyuki Nakajima. On the depth chart with him are Andy Parrino and Adam Rosales.

    Rosales is a proven backup (career .226 batter). Parrino has hit .200 in the majors.

    Besides, no small market team signs a guy to a two-year, $6.5 million deal to have him ride the pine.

    So it stands to reason that Nakajima is your starting Oakland A's shortstop. This becomes relevant in a discussion about Rookie of the Year candidates because most of the others won't have the luxury of playing in 162 games.

    As of January 8, it appears Jurickson Profar will begin in the minors. Reports from Tampa Bay Online claim the same fate for Wil Myers.

    Unless these guys have Mike Trout-like seasons, their tardiness to the show can only hamper their possibility of winning the AL ROY Award.

    That's reason for Nakajima to smile.