Fantasy Baseball Sleeper Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Fantasy Knuckleheads@_knuckleheadsCorrespondent IMarch 2, 2011

Every season a few new names appear on MLB rosters from the Japanese baseball league,  but most go unnoticed and many have fairly benign careers here in the states.

This season, among those names is Minnesota Twins second baseman, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who comes from the Chiba Lotte Marines. He is a natural shortstop, so he will qualify at both positions for fantasy purposes.

That alone gives him value in a year with a thin middle infield pool.

Last season Nishioka won the Pacific League batting title for Japan. He also racked up 22 steals.

Unlike other MLB rookies, he is already a seasoned vet and his game should translate pretty well to the American game.

When Ichiro came to the Mariners in 2001 after leaving the Orix Blue Wave, he saw a slight drop off in power but his hits went up and his stolen bases took off. There’s no reason to believe Nishioka cannot do something similar with the Twins.

Nishioka’s game, similar to Ichiro’s is about contact and speed.

While I can see him putting up maybe 10 HRs this season what I expect to see for fantasy purposes is a .290 – .300 average with 90-100 runs, 55+ RBIs and 20-25 steals.

The latter could even be too low, but I’m trying to be conservative here with an unknown quantity.

Manager Ron Gardenhire has already been wowed by Nishioka’s speed and defensive prowess.

He’s currently be drafted in the 21st round on average, but to emphasize the lack of depth at the middle infield slot, he’s owned in 95+% of most leagues. He’s only 26 but he has had some health/injury issues in the past.

In short, I’d rather take a later round shot on a guy who can help me in three departments (runs, average and SBs) over an overly inflated price tag on guys like Brian Roberts and Chone Figgins who really don’t live up to their ADP.

T.N. may not be the next Ichiro, but he he could be his own brand of T.N.T.