The Pittsburgh Pirates could consider this interesting college player as an under slot pick in this year's draft
The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to have to go with a low under-slot pick at some point in the 2023 draft. Dylan Crews is almost a surefire bet to be the first pick and could potentially break the all-time signing bonus record. But a player the Pirates could take earlier than expected with the intention of saving money later on is Rikuu Nishida, who is one of the most interesting college players in this year’s draft.
Nishida’s game is all about hitting for contact, getting on base, and stealing his way into scoring position. The University of Oregon infielder batted .316/.398/.458 with 20 stolen bases. He walked at a respectable 9.2% rate, however, his ability to hit for contact is almost unmatched by almost any college batter. He struck out 20 times for a strikeout rate of just 8%. But he lacks almost any raw power.
It took 305 plate appearances between his first season of college ball at Mount Hood Community College and the Cape Cod League for him to hit his first home run as a college player. Even then, he only hit five and had an isolated slugging percentage of .142. He did run out 13 doubles as one silver lining to his power. However, he’s a guy who would struggle to hit ten home runs in a season.
Nishida also projects as a solid second baseman. His quick reflexes should work fine up the middle. The only other position he has played was one game at third base back in 2021, and he hasn’t suited up for a game at shortstop. There’s a chance the team who takes Nishida tries him out at short, though he’ll likely end up at second base long-term or in a utility role.
Nishida’s swing is reminiscent of many Asian players and fits a Kevin Newman-like profile. This all doesn’t make him seem like too interesting of a player. A light-hitting, contact-first, speedy middle infielder isn’t all that uncommon, but here’s the thing: Nishida has used a wood bat throughout his college career.
Almost all college players go to the plate with an aluminum bat. Nishida, on the other hand, is swinging actual lumber. While a .142 ISO isn’t too impressive for a college batter, it’s not terrible for a guy swinging a wood bat in what many consider the third-best D1 college conference, the PAC-12. Plus it's not as if he doesn't have enough power to muscle out some impressive home runs.
Joe Doyle of Future Star Series sees him as a potential under-slot pick, citing that he “may be in play for a team toward the second half of day two, potentially as a money saver.” The Pirates are definitely going to have to take a player for under-slot money at some point after picking Crews. But as stated earlier, Nishida could go a tad earlier than the second half of day two so the Pirates can recuperate after taking Crews. That’s not to say that the Bucs should take him in the second round, but at least consider him in an earlier-than-expected slot.
Another thing that might intrigue the Pirates is his performance at the Cape Cod League. Nishida batted .291/.390/.316 in 142 plate appearances. Now granted, Nishida wasn't the best hitter in the Cape considering that his only extra base hits were three doubles. However, he walked 15 times, struck out just 17 times, and stole an impressive 28 bags in just 43 games. He defintiley used his .390 OBP to it's fullest potential, willing himself into scoring position or to third base over half the time he reached base.
Nishida has proved himself with a wood bat at Oregon. Even if he ends up as a low-impact bat, he has enough other qualities to his game that could make him an overall productive player in the future. He’s fast, can play a good second base, and makes a lot of contact, even if it isn’t hard contact. Plus, his ability to avoid strikeouts and draw walks could help him in the long run.