|Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters – No. 6|
April 22, 1989 |
Hiroshima, Hiroshima, Japan
|NPB: May 23, 2009 for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters|
Early Baseball Career
As a high school student, he played as a pitcher for Osaka Toin High School and his fastball was clocket at 94 mph. In 2006, he took part in a National High School Baseball Championship, but he was defeated by his opponent Yuki Saito in his second game.
Nakata was a highly-hyped prospect out of high school, hitting a total of 87 home runs, a Japanese record. On November 3, 2006, during a prefectural tournament game, the 17-year-old cracked a 550' homer out of the park then over a couple houses before landing across the street. That shattered the old record for the park, 425' by future NPB regular Osamu Hamanaka. The Minnesota Twins, New York Mets and Seattle Mariners all expressed interest, with Seattle offering $2.5 million. Nakata turned all of them down to play in Nippon Pro Baseball.
He struggled in his first spring training, and was sent down to ni-gun for seasoning. He fared well, hitting .255/.339/.464 with 11 HR in 196 AB. He was five homers behind Eastern League leader Yohei Kaneko despite missing the last two months after knee surgery.
Nakata starred in the minors, tying the Eastern League RBI record (95, previously set by Corey Paul) and setting a new homer record (30, also held by Paul). He made it into 22 official games, debuting on May 23 and singling off Ricky Barrett in his first at-bat in Nippon Pro Baseball. He was 10 for 36 with two doubles, three runs, one RBI, one walk and 15 whiffs for Nippon Ham.
Nakata was moved to the outfield in 2010, but once again missed two months due to knee surgery. He hit .233/.291/.395 with 9 HR but 61 strikeouts in 210 at-bats. His first NPB homer came off Yuta Omine on July 20. He got six votes for the 2010 Pacific League Rookie of the Year Award, well back of Ryo Sakakibara's 87. He also trailed Keisuke Katto, Masahiko Morifuku and Takashi Ogino.
As a regular in 2011, Nakata hit .237/.283/.408 with 32 doubles, 18 home runs and 91 RBI. In a low-offense season, he ranked among the Pacific League leaders in many departments. He was third in RBI (behind Takeya Nakamura and Hiroyuki Nakajima), second in doubles (to Kazuo Matsui), tied for third in homers (with Aarom Baldiris, trailing Nakamura by 30 and Nobuhiro Matsuda by 7), tied for 5th in total bases (215, even with Mitsutaka Gotoh), second in sacrifice flies (8, behind Nakajima), third in strikeouts (133, one behind co-leaders Chung-Shou Yang and Nakamura), tied for 6th in double play grounders (12, even with Baldiris) and 9th in slugging (between Goto and Atsunori Inaba).
He is the first Fighters player to hit at least 20 homers over three consecutive seasons since Michihiro Ogasawara (now with the Chunichi Dragons). Together with rookie pitcher Shohei Ohtani, the duo are dubbed as the "O-N tandem of the Heisei Era", referencing to the Sadaharu Oh and Shigeo Nagashima's "O-N cannon" back in their prime with the Yomiuri Giants
- White, Paul (March 30, 2007). "Japan frets over talent exodus to North America". USA Today. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
- "Power-hitting phenom Nakata thrust into spotlight". The Japan Times. 2008-02-21. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
- "Sho Nakata Starts Slugging for Ham Fighters". One World Sports. 2013-08-05. Retrieved 2013-08-05.