NAGO, Okinawa--Everything Sho Nakata does has been news this spring. Whether it was hitting batting practice shots into the ocean on the first day of spring training, or playing with dolphins on his first day off, the heavyset 18-year-old out has been the story of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters camp.
On Thursday, Nakata faced real pitching for the first time as the Fighters held their first intrasquad game of the year. While the Fighters' first-round draft pick, a record-setting home run hitter for Osaka Toin High School, didn't look sharp at the plate, he didn't seem bothered by it either.
"He has been impressive in BP," said Fighters manager Masataka Nashida before the game. "But that's BP. He's really good at hitting those soft deliveries hard, but we'll have to see what he does against real pitching.
"When pitchers bust you inside and then work you away, it's completely different. What matters today is not the result but how he responds. How he reacts naturally."
And though the 1.82-meter, 95-kilogram Nakata looks naturally comfortable if not yet a master in the batter's box, he is an absolute beginner at third base, where he has worked out for the past week in Nago.
"You'd better cover your eyes," Nashida said of the rookie's fielding. "He's never played there before, but I want to push him. Sometimes a guy will come to pro camp and be given an easy task. I want him to stretch himself."
The skipper, who is back managing after three years on the sidelines, believes Nakata's future is at first base, but that his natural position is in the batter's box.
"His hitting potential seems limitless," Nashida said. "Although he is heavy, he has good balance and gets superb rotation. The ball really flies off his bat."
It's a good thing Nakata has responded to both his spring successes and failures with poise, because it appears there will be no let up in the hype.
His first day in camp, when he was launching them into the bay, was news. So was the next day, when he couldn't clear the short fence.
"On the first day the wind was blowing out, the next day it was blowing straight in," said Fighters scout Matt Winters.
"There's got to be a lot of pressure. They [the media] can really put it on."