Sleeper Sleuth: Thrifty shoppers should lay out for Nishioka

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After Stephen Drew is scratched off cheat-sheets, the shortstop position is an unforgiving landscape where water is scarce,violent attacks by Sand People are real and statistical abhorrence is commonplace.

However, the earth isn't completely scorched. Rising up from the desolation lies a satisfying oasis destined to quench the thirst of any bargain seeker who drinks from it. His name: Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

Since 2001, when Ichiro Suzuki took the Majors by storm, the fantasy community has waited patiently for the next Japanese monster. While Godzilla has bared his teeth, others have scared few. The largely Quad-A talent that's entered the league has crumbled under the intense pressure to perform — at least, long-term. Surprisingly, imports from the Land of Frightening Robots have fared well initially, generating a noticeable fantasy spark. Here's a rundown of notable Japanese rookie campaigns (Notice So Taguchi is purposely absent):

Ichiro (Age 27): .350-8-69-127-56
Kaz Matsui (28): .272-7-44-65-14
Akinori Iwamura (28): .285-7-34-82-12
Hideki Matsui (29): .287-16-108-82-2
Tadahito Iguchi (30): .278-15-71-74-15
Kosuke Fukudome (31): .257-10-58-79-12 {YSP:MORE}

Outside Godzilla, Ichiro and Iguchi's first impressions, unchallenged fantasy players wouldn't speak kindly of the group. But Nishioka isn't another soul-destroying Kaz-Mat or painfully average Fukudome.

Though his durability is suspect, the 26-year-old, who is in the midst of his prime, has the laid-back personality, golden glove and high-contact profile needed to transition flawlessly to the American game. He also has the confidence. Earlier this week, Nishioka admitted he "really hasn't noticed much difference" between the two baseball brands. His Grapefruit numbers certainly speak to that. In 42 at-bats, he's collected 15 hits (.357 BA), three of the extra-base variety, with two steals. He's whiffed only once.

On the basepaths, Nishioka isn't Ichiro-fast or Shane Victorino-savvy. Across the Pacific he posted a bland 71.9 stolen base percentage. Still, despite his shortcomings, he will be relied upon heavily to manufacture runs as Ron Gardenhire's exclusive two-hitter. His caught stealing numbers might be unpalatable, but it would be a complete shock if he didn't swipe at least 20 bases. Toss in his likely strong AVG and runs contribution — Keep in mind he led the NBPL in hits, total bases, runs and AVG last year — and Nishioka's final line could resemble what Jose Reyes compiled a season ago (.282-11-54-83-30), though that's likely his ceiling. If his full potential is realized, the multi-dimensional commodity (2B/SS) will turn a mammoth profit. Undoubtedly, he will outpace last year's shortstop averages in runs (75.3), steals (13.8) and AVG (.274). His 233.1 Y! ADP (SS25) and $1.6 AAV should be quite appetizing to fantasy dumpster-divers in 12-team and deeper mixers.

In Japanese, Tsuyoshi means "strong." Because of his peak age, three-cat assets and favorable hitting spot, frugal drafters should attach "buy" to it.

Fearless Forecast: 598 at-bats, .286 BA, 8 HR, 53 RBI, 91 R, 23 SB


Image courtesy of Getty

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