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Nippon Ham sends Nakata to minors

Kyodo News

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ highly touted rookie Sho Nakata has been demoted to the club’s farm team, manager Masataka Nashida said Thursday.

The 18-year-old Nakata, who was picked from a four-party lottery by Nippon Ham in last year’s amateur draft, has drawn the spotlight as a power slugger after hitting 87 home runs in his high school years at Osaka Toin.

This preseason, however, Nakata has fallen into a quagmire, batting just .118 (2-for-17) with nine strikeouts. His questionable defensive ability has also raised eye brows.

“I want him to improve in many areas,” Nashida said after relaying the news to Nakata on Wednesday. “I want him to slowly build something that will allow him to sit confidently in the cleanup spot.”

Nakata was disappointed that he was unable to produce the results that people expect of him. He responded with a two-run homer in his first minor league appearance in a game on Thursday.

“I swung the bat well for the first time in a long time. I am glad that I was able to make the switch and start over from zero,” Nakata said after going 1-for-5 on the day.

Nakata got off to a bang with a home run in his first at-bat in a preseason game against the Yokohama BayStars on March 1, but he had been hitless on the top team in 14 straight plate appearances up until Wednesday.

“Before I was able to get a big head, I stopped hitting the ball and I realize now the difficulty of playing pro baseball on the top level. That’s good for me,” said Nakata.