Sho Nakata has been on MLB teams’ radars since 2007 when he was the top power prospect in the draft by a large margin; the Mets, Mariners and Twins all were said to have significant interest in trying to sign him before the NPB draft, but he ultimately stayed and went to the Nippon Ham Fighters with their 1st pick. Nakata is a big, thick kid with tremendous low-half strength. He has a good deal of length to his swing and an uphill plane to go with a track record of significant swing and miss. But the plus raw power is very real and he can drive the ball out to any part of the ballpark. He doesn’t have to square it up to hit it out and he does not miss too many mistakes out over the plate, but he has consistently struggled with breaking stuff on the outer third of the plate and can be pitched to.
Power hitters being at such a premium in Japan, Nakata was rushed to the big leagues there, making his debut as a 20 year old in 2009. He did not have much of an approach and K’d a whopping 31% of the time going up and down from the minor leagues his first two seasons. He made a concerted effort to work on the swing and miss and pared the K rate down to 25% in his first full season at the top level and saw steady improvement before posting career bests of 18% and 17% in 2012 and 2014, with 19% in 2013. He regressed a bit to 22% in 2015 and so far this year is sitting at 21%. 2015 was his best year as far as offensive production goes, with 30 HR’s (career high) 26 doubles and an .817 OPS. He has also proven to be very durable, tallying 600+ PA’s three times in his first five full seasons and never having fewer than 459 PA’s, which was in 2013 due to a broken left pinky.
Nakata has never really had a position on defense. He was a catcher in High School, but was quickly moved to 3B as a pro and then to the OF when that didn’t work out. He would have been an idea fit for 1B if not for his plus arm. As a rookie I had it at a 60 and it played well at a corner OF spot. However, he does not run well and consistently would get poor reads. Since the beginning of 2015 he has been almost exclusively a first-baseman and seems destine to remain there. Recently there have been some rumors that he may be posted after the 2017 season (now set to hit international free agency after the 2019 season). However, I’m not sure that it would be worthwhile for the Fighters to do so; Nakata is a fan-favorite in Sapporo and his power potential holds a good bit more value in the NPB than it does in MLB. Byung-Ho Park is a semi-close comparison and he only drew $12.85M after a season in which he hit .343 and 53 HR’s. Nakata is not a great athlete and is below average in the OF and at 1B. Overall, I have Nakata as a step below Park with similar defensive limitations. So in all likelihood the value offered by an MLB club may not be enough for the Fighters to give up their best power threat.