A's manager Bob Melvin believes new shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima will have a somewhat easier path to big league success than outfielder Yoenis Cespedes did last year.
Like Cespedes last season, Nakajima will be jumping into a new world once the A's convene spring training workouts in Phoenix on Feb. 12. But because Nakajima signed with the A's in December, the Japanese import should have plenty of time to prepare for his first big-league season.
Cespedes didn't come to terms with Oakland until February, and he didn't report until three weeks later. By then the outfielder from Cuba was facing a huge learning curve. He didn't know American baseball, much less American culture, and early on it showed. He needed what little spring training time he had just to learn his new teammates' names, and the entire year was a learning process.
It also was a successful season. The A's won 94 games and captured the A.L. West, and Cespedes hit .292 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs.
Melvin is counting on the two-a-day workouts in spring training that Nakajima is used to from his playing days in Japan to bridge the gap once the A's begin workouts.
"In Japan they do so much work in spring training, more than we do here," Melvin said. "It takes a while for a player coming from there to get used to that. I've had Japanese players before; it's not a challenge to get them to work."
Melvin, who managed Japanese relievers Kazuhiro Sasaki and Shigetoshi Hasegawa as well as right fielder Ichiro Suzuki when he managed in Seattle in 2003 and 2004, expects Nakajima to fit right in.
"I have heard that he's a very hard-working kid," Melvin said. "There's more to playing over here than just getting to know his teammates, the coaches and the manager. There's a pretty sharp learning curve in spring training, but he's got the background for it."
General manager Billy Beane, too, said Nakajima has an advantage coming to the U.S. from Japan.
"Other guys have made that leap," Beane said. "Obviously it's a big cultural change. But the conditions and the schedule there are more similar to the ones here. And you have to add to that the fact that the competition in Japan is more consistent, not up and down."
Cespedes came from a Cuban program that doesn't have the same rigorous emphasis on working out that is evident in Japan. But, Melvin said, that scarcely mattered.
"The year he's had here will make a huge difference for him this spring," Melvin said of Cespedes. "Last year, everything was a first for him. He had to learn to play baseball the way we do.
"This year, he knows what's expected. And couple that with his being a lot more comfortable in left field instead of center field. He's not going to have to worry about what to do differently. He's a team guy, a hard worker who wants to do things right."
Melvin said he expects his Spring Training 2.0 with the A's to be less of a struggle than last year, where a young group had to learn to know each other, their coaches, their manager and the organization's expectations.
"We're going to have more understanding of what we are trying to do here," Melvin said. "The players are going to know what to expect with drills. There's going to be familiarity with the coaching staff, there will be familiarity with me, and they'll know the work ethic we expect."
Melvin, who was talking while walking through 10 degree weather in Manhattan Tuesday, heads to Arizona later this week and will be on hand for the A's annual FanFest Sunday at the Coliseum.