Habits are both helpful and a hindrance. We all know from our own personal experience how regular habits help keep us on an even keel and in times of crisis are what get us through. We also know how difficult it is to kick a bad habit.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s failure to get out of the way on a double play attempt today may be evidence of a habit tough to break. Fortunately, he was not injured, but it was a clear reminder of what took him down and out for several weeks last year with a broken leg.
He may have more talent than shows right now, but the habits he has developed over years of playing Japanese style aren’t going to go away quickly or easily. Because of the work he has been doing with coaches, I’m guessing he knows now, intellectually, what he needs to be doing and can do it in drills (from comments made by Paul Molitor), but when the pressure of game-speed decision-making hits, he seems to revert to the old habits. Not surprising, but this is not a good sign. For him to make the opening day roster, he is going to have to demonstrate that he can be a competent middle infielder. So far this spring, he has not demonstrated he is ready.
It is still early in the spring training schedule, so there is time yet for him to come around, but right now I’m thinking he is more likely to open the season at AAA. If that is the case, I think he should play second base, not shortstop, so he has an opportunity to develop at a position where he has a better chance of succeeding. If he improves quickly, he can be recalled in September, or earlier if needed. If he doesn’t improve enough, he probably should be released rather than trying one more year just because he is under contract through 2013.
Nishioka said himself in an interview earlier this year, if he did not show he could compete in the major leagues, he would probably go back to Japan. As a result, I would not be surprised if he chooses to get out of his contract and return to Japan so he has an opportunity to resurrect his career there. That could happen as early as this year, but I suspect he will want to try to make it this year.