We've seen our fare share of Japanese baseball players transition to Major League Baseball. Some have found tremendous success (Ichiro), but most have fallen short of becoming impact major leaguers (Fukudome, Iwamura). Today, the Twins became the latest team to add a Japanese import, agreeing to terms with middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Given his skill set (contact/speed), Nishioka's fantasy impact will be limited right off the bat. He has had double-digit home run seasons in Japan, but those power numbers don't translate to Major League Baseball (see: Iwamura, Akinori). While there is a chance Nishioka could hit .300 in his first year, there is no way of projecting him to do so. As for his speed, Patrick Newman of NPBtracker.com penned a piece for Fan Graphs in which he compared Nishioka to Ryan Theriot or Chone Figgins. I'd take the Theriot comp as a baseline for Nishioka's stolen base potential with the Figgins comp as the absolute ceiling and a bit of an unlikely outcome.
For now, there is no word on where Nishikoa will play, but it will be either short or second. He should be fantasy eligible at both spots. Alexi Casilla would play opposite Nishikoa at either way.
I like the Ryan Theriot comp more than the Figgins comp for 2011. If Nishakoa puts up a .280-.290 AVG and 20 stolen bases, he'll be worth a starting spot in deeper leagues at MI (middle infield) and a roster spot in 12-team mixed leagues that use MI.