A few weeks ago, Alex Remington published an article covering a Harvard study overweight baseball players. Had Harvard expanded their study to Japan, they could have included Ryoji Nakata, Japan’s portly rookie.
When Nagoya’s Chunichi Dragons drafted Nakata out of Asia University in the third round of last year’s NPB draft, he immediately took over as Japan’s roundest player. At a Fielder-esque 5’6 (171 cm), 260 lbs (118kg), Nakata inherited the distinction from Japan’s previous reigning heavyweight, Seibu’s Takeya Nakamura, who is comparatively svelte at 5’9 (175cm) and 224 lbs (102kg). Nakamura’s game matches his size: he’s a third baseman was a good first step, who has led Japan in home runs each of the last two seasons (46 and 48 respectively).
Nakata is different. He’s a first baseman, and lefthanded-hitter who relies on contact skills and strike zone control. In college, he was a gap hitter with a career slash line of .278/.355/.438, though this was dragged down by a horrible .102/.185/.184 Autumn 2008 season. You can get a sense of what he looks like at the plate in this spring training at bat against Orix reliever Daisuke Kato. Like many Japanese contact hitters, Nakata kind of turns himself towards first base on his follow through, which I think will make him vulnerable to NPB-level fastballs over the outside part of the plate. On the plus side though, he motors to second on the left fielder’s misplay, and advances to third on a sacrifice fly.
Skills aside, conditioning and stamina are the obvious concerns here. While Nakata appears to cover short distances surprisingly well enough, I doubt he’ll hold up over of the course of even a professional farm team season. He was visibly winded after running a sprint in a video I saw, and was finished a 4k run three laps behind his rookie teammates. And it will remain to be seen how the duration of the season affects his physique, and how that in turn affects his game.
So for me, putting it all together, Nakata has “pinch hitter” written all over him. He’s an unconventional player and it’ll be interesting to see how he develops with Chunichi’s farm team this season.