Utility Infielder: Norihiro Nakamura
Positions: Third Base, First Base, Shortstop, second Base
Japanese Teams: Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes (1992-2004) Orix Buffaloes (2006) Chunichi Dragons (2007-08) Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (2009-10) Yokohama DeNa Baystars (2011-Present)
MLB Team: Los Angeles Dodgers (2005)
A highly touted player with considerable power, having had a couple of 40+ homer seasons in the NPB, Nakamura walked away from a guaranteed $10 million two-year contract in Japan to sign a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, with a spring training invitation. The Dodgers, who had lost previous third baseman Adrian Beltre to the Seattle Mariners, the Dodgers were eager to see how their new addition would perform in the Majors. Nakamura lasted exactly 17 games in the Big Leagues before he was sent back to AAA (Where he actually played pretty well) and released at the end of the season. Nakamura commented that “If Ichiro had started his career under minor [league] contract like [him], he couldn’t be called up to Major League”, which may be true, but Ichiro also didn’t hit .128 when he did get the chance to play.
Utility Infielder: Tsuyoshi Nishioka
Japanese Teams: Chiba Lotte Marines (2003-2010) Hanshin Tigers (2013-Present)
MLB Team: Minnesota Twins (2011-12)
Positions: Shortstop, Second Base
An All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner with the Chiba Lotte Marines, Nishioka was posted by the Marines and signed by the Twins to a three-year contract in 2010. (Fact: I saw his Twins debut. Minnesota got slaughtered by the Blue Jays) Unfortunately, just one week into his Major League career, Nishioka broke his left fibula (Leg? Is that a leg thing?) and missed 59 games. He was atrocious upon his return, batting .226 with a .527 OPS, while also playing terrible defense.
Nishioka played only three games with the Twins in 2011, spending most of the season with the AAA Rochester Red Wings. At the end of the season, Nishioka requested and was granted his release from the Twins, returning to Japan to play for the Hanshin Tigers.
Utility Outfielder: Tsuyoshi Shinjo
Position: All outfield positions
Japanese Teams: Hanshin Tigers (1991-2000) Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (2004-06)
MLB Teams: New York Mets (2001, 2003) San Francisco Giants (2002)
A, energetic, flamboyant player, Shinjo only played three seasons with the Giants and the Mets, but he did become the first Japanese player to play in a World Series, in 2002 with the Giants. Not too shabby for a guy whose manager in Japan tried to convert him into a starting pitcher because he was perceived to be so worthless as an outfielder.
Utility Outfielder: Norichika Aoki
Position: Corner Outfielder
Japanese Team: Tokyo Yakult Swallows (2004-11)
MLB Team: Milwaukee Brewers (2012-13)
A former Rookie of the Year and batting champion with the Tokyo Swallows, Norichika Aoki first started catching American eyes in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, hitting .324 for Samurai Japan, helping Japan win the Championship, and being named to the All-Tournament team. Posted by the Swallows prior to the 2012 season, Aoki was claimed by the Brewers and quickly became a solid, if not great, player for the Brewers, getting on base enough for players like a juiced-up Ryan Braun to drive him in. This offseason, Aoki was traded to the Kansas City Royals for pitcher Will Smith.
To be continued…..Again……