Meet Tanner Nishioka. He’s the unlikeliest of top draft picks, and probably smarter than you
The Boston Red Sox did not literally draft a brain surgeon on Tuesday. But we don’t need too much poetic license to make this a good story.
Tanner Nishioka is smart — wicked smart, you might say. He just graduated from Pomona College, with a major in neuroscience, an academic All-American with a 3.62 grade-point average. He aspired to attend medical school.
He would have applied this year, except he was so busy excelling in baseball that he became perhaps the unlikeliest selection among the top 10 rounds in the draft.
When he answered the telephone at his family home in Hawaii on Tuesday night, you could sense the joy when he was asked how he was doing.
“I’m very good,” he said.
The draft extends 40 rounds. The Red Sox shocked Nishioka by picking him in the ninth round, lofty territory for any college senior, let alone one who had not been drafted out of high school or after his junior year of college.
His college competes at the NCAA Division III level — as Pomona-Pitzer, two liberal arts colleges that combine to form one athletic program. Never had a player from his team been drafted so high.
“I just wanted to play baseball for as long as I could,” Nishioka said. “I wouldn’t say I thought I would get drafted in the top 10 rounds at all. I still can’t believe it.”
Nishioka said he had turned down a scholarship offer from Notre Dame — and had attracted interest from Harvard — before committing to Pomona College, where one of his siblings had gone. His other two siblings had attended nearby Claremont McKenna.
Nishioka, a 6-foot-tall second baseman, led Division III this year with 18 home runs in 39 games. He batted .441 with a .542 on-base percentage for the Sagehens (“a large ground-dwelling bird that … eats mainly insects and sagebrush”).
He said his coaches accommodated his academic schedule and worked with him between classes, sometimes on a one-on-one basis.
He said the Angels and Red Sox were the only teams to invite him for a pre-draft workout. As it turned out, he had a Sagehen looking out for him with the Red Sox.
Nishioka said scouts rarely attend Pomona-Pitzer games. No Sagehen ever has made the major leagues, but one advanced to triple-A: an infielder named James Kang, who played in the Red Sox organization and now is an assistant in the team’s international scouting department.
“That really helped me a lot,” Nishioka said. “He put my name on the map for them.”
Medical school can wait. The Red Sox told him they would call Wednesday to discuss their plans for him, and a guy that wasn’t sure he would get drafted at all can hardly believe his good fortune.
“I was just hoping for an opportunity to go play,” he said. “Baseball was always my dream.”