There have been reports stating that Nakajima was hoping to land on the West Coast, and I suspect (though cannot confirm) that he would prefer a starting gig as he is currently in the prime of his career. As such, it will be interesting to see if he accepts the Yankees offer, whatever it may be, to serve as their primary utility infielder - it would not be unprecedented for Nakajima to spurn the Yankees and elect to return to Japan.
Last summer, Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker and FanGraphs stated the following about Nakajima in a run through some Japanese prospects:
Nakajima gets my vote as Japan’s second best hitter, behind Aoki. Nakajima doesn’t quite match up with Aoki’s pure contact skill or plate discipline, but is still very good in both categories and adds a bit more gap power to the equation. Nakajima is a back-leg hitter, with a big stride that he will occasionally shorten up. On the turf, Nakajima plays a solid shortstop, among many good shortstops in his league.In a lengthier follow-up, after Nakajima asked to be posted (and subsequently denied), Newman wrote about his glove:
Good glove, pretty good arm. I’ve seen some commentary speculating that he’s better suited to second base in MLB, but I don’t see why he shouldn’t get a chance to play shortstop. Nakajima has played his career on turf, in his home games at Seibu Dome and most of his road games, as all of the Pacific League teams have turf infields. The turf-grass adjustment was tough for Kazuo Matsui, but Tadahito Iguchi did fine so it can go either way.And his bat:
Nakajima is a good contact hitter who uses the whole field. I see him as a line drive/gap hitter; in Japan he’s been around 20 hr and .500 slg for the last four years or so. He’s also gotten better at drawing walks over the last few years, but he’s still not great by American standards. Generally speaking, though, there are fewer walks and strikeouts in NPB. Like many Japanese NPB hitters, he has a complex swing, with a long stride and a lot of leg movement. I think he will shorten up his stride and cut down on his lower body movement in MLB, which will likely cost him some power.Reports indicate that Nakajima is an above-average baserunner, and his numbers seem to bear that out (as well as much of Newman's scouting report).
Based upon the information on-hand, Nakajima does fit the profile of a solid utility infielder. I am a bit leery of the transition from the NPB to the MLB, particularly in cases where the player's numbers don't jump off the page, but the expectations seem reasonable. So long as the contract is reasonable, I think that Nakajima is a solid gamble.
On another note, I imagine this is indicative of the Yankees willingness to move Eduardo Nunez. His name has popped up in several rumors, and the rumor that he was the breaking point in the non-trade for Cliff Lee persists to this day. I suppose it may also mean the Yankees are going to allow him to play every day in Triple-A, but that would be somewhat unprecedented - particularly when the team could likely include him in a package to upgrade the rotation. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.
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