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Valentine: Nishioka could be MLB shortstop

by Jason Coskrey

There’s at least one MLB team that thought highly enough of Tsuyoshi Nishioka to put in a bid on him. If his former manager is right, it might turn out to be a worthwhile investment.

As the public waits to find out which team submitted the winning bid for the right to negotiate with the All-Star shortstop, former MLB and Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine says Nishioka has what it takes to succeed in the U.S.

“I think in the right situation, if he stays healthy, he’ll be a very good player,” Valentine told the Japan Times in a telephone interview. “He would be something there aren’t many of right now and that’s a switch-hitting leadoff hitter. There are not many guys who do that in the major leagues.”

Nishioka is coming off a career year during which he batted .346, finished with 206 hits, the second most in Pacific League history, and drove in 59 runs. He helped lead the Marines into the postseason and to victory in the Japan Series.

That performance earned him a shot at the majors and prompted one prominent U.S. sports writer, Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo Sports, to wonder in a column if Nishioka was “the next great Japanese position player.”

“He’s now 26-years-old,” Valentine said. “I saw him the other day, he’s bigger, he’s growing into his body. Instead of just being a skinny young kid he’s becoming a man and he was healthy all last year.”

A lot of the speculation about Nishioka’s posting has centered on what position he will play. Because of his body type, many believe he would have to switch positions in the major leagues and play second base.

It’s a switch that wouldn’t be too hard as Nishioka, despite playing shortstop for most of his career, can more than hold his own at second.

He finished 2005 with the unique honor of winning a Gold Glove as a second baseman while being named to the Best Nine team as a shortstop. He also manned second base during the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

“I think he can play decent defense,” Valentine said. “Now I don’t know what park and what field he would be playing on and what kind of adjustments he would make. But in proper time he would be a good defensive player.”

While most think he’ll be forced to change positions, there is always the possibility he could earn himself a look as a shortstop.

“It depends on who’s coaching him and who’s looking at him,” Valentine said. “He has a different look so it would depend on how that would translate in the manager and coaches’ eyes.

“If they understood what they were seeing, I think after he learns some positioning and gets proper tutelage he can be a fine shortstop. With a lot of teams I think because of the way he looks, at the beginning, I think they would play him at second base.”

Valentine says under the right circumstances, Nishioka could make the adjustments needed to become a major league shortstop.

“I saw guys who played shortstop last year who aren’t as good as he is,” Valentine said. “I don’t think that the play is that much different (between NPB and MLB). It’s just the perception and the comfort level people will have with him and that he would have playing the position.

“As far as moving to his left and his right, charging the ball and turning the double play, he can do all those things as well as some of the shortstops in the major leagues. Some of them are obviously more graceful and thinner than he is, but there aren’t 30 of them who are better than him.”