A’s like what they see in Nakajima

Anybody with a decent set of eyes could see: The A’s needed to secure a steady shortstop in the offseason.

The combination of Cliff Pennington, Stephen Drew, Adam Rosales, Brandon Hicks and Eric Sogard hit just .203 with 12 home runs — while committing 17 errors—  in 2012.

Pennington was traded to Arizona, Drew signed with Boston and Hicks was sold to the New York Mets.

The mission to re-tool the position started in December when the A’s signed 30-year-old Japanese shortstop Hiro Nakajima, a career .302 hitter for the Seibu Lions of the Nippon Professional Baseball organization.

After workouts and batting practice this week at Spring Training, A’s manager Bob Melvin said he and his coaches were “pleasantly surprised” by what they saw from Nakajima:

“His hands work very well, as far as batting practice, he’s not trying to do too much. His hands looked very sure while taking ground balls.”

To expect Nakajima, though, to come straight to the majors and have the same success that Yoenis Cespedes had in 2012 is slightly optimistic. Recent examples of Japanese position players jumping to the majors have had mixed results:

  • Second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka played parts of 2011 and 2012 with Minnesota, but has gone back to Japan;
  • Outfielder Norichika Aoki hit .288 in 151 games in his first season with Milwaukee in 2012;
  • Shortstop Munenori Kawasaki signed with Seattle prior to 2012. But after hitting just .192 in 61 games, he was released from his contract and is a free agent.

Before the Nakajima signing, the A’s were linked to a possible trade for Houston Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie. Sure enough, two months after inking the Japanese shortstop, the A’s traded three young players — including top pitching prospects Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole — to Houston for Lowrie.

Lowrie, who played collegiately at Stanford and was a supplemental 1st round pick of the Red Sox in 2005, has played 230 major league games at shortstop.

Despite Lowrie’s experience and Nakajima’s lack thereof, it sounds like the A’s have essentially handed the starting shortstop job to Nakajima and told Lowrie to fight for playing time at second base and the occasional game at shortstop.

Lowrie has started just 31 major league games at second base, but it sounds as if he will be competing with Jemile Weeks for the starting second base job.

Nakajima has had a lot of success in Japan, but transitioning to baseball in the majors is going to take some time. Most games in Japan are played on artificial turf, whereas most major league stadiums use natural grass, including Oakland.

Rather than just handing the job to either Nakajima or Lowrie, Melvin and the coaching staff should leave it open and let the two compete heading into Spring Training.