Because Royals fans have seen plenty of Omar Infante with the Tigers, Kansas City might be the most eager to see Norichika Aoki in action. The Japanese native has spent the last two years in the National League with the Brewers, giving Kansas City fans limited exposure to his style of play, leaving them curious about his talents. Here, we’ll take a look at his tools and how well he uses them.
*For more information about the 20-80 scouting scale, see the bottom of the post.
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Here are Norichika Aoki’s scouting grades.
Aoki is one of the few batters whose OBP doesn’t correlate to power. He has a good eye at the plate and works off touch pitches. He doesn’t often swing at the first strike, but definitely won’t let easy pitches slip by, a la George Brett. He has a nice easy swing that results in low line drives and hard hit ground balls. He only struck out once every 14.9 at bats last year, which led the National League.
He walks at a league average rate, but hits a ton of infield singles, never strikes out and basically never pops up. He gives himself many opportunities to get on base and does (including reaching on errors 27 times in two years…which is the most I’ve seen in back-to-back years, though a couple players reached more often in the 70s).
He showed a bit more power potential in Japan, but that dematerialized in the States. He’s only hit 18 home runs in 1117 Major League at bats. He has some doubles power. In 2012, he hit 37 doubles in just 520 at bats, but that too fell by the wayside. He only had 31 combined extra base hits in 2013. Still, his short compact swing has some zing to it. Most of the time, he drives the ball into the dirt, but with just a little loft and he could easily hit doubles and triples all over the big Kauffman Stadium outfield.
He’s an average center fielder playing above-average right field. He has textbook standard range in the outfield, but gets great jumps on fly balls, has good instincts and usually takes good routes.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Tom Hadricourt says Aoki has a “good accurate arm.” It’s surprisingly strong, which fits in nicely with an outfield that is accustomed to killing the running game. He has compiled an impressive resume of excellent throws in only two years and made John Dewan’s list of “cannon arms“. His throws are virtually always on target, quite similar to Alex Gordon‘s skillset.
He’s not as fast as you’d think with all those steals. He has a pretty good eye for when he should make a move, but is slow enough to still get thrown out. He might benefit from Royals’ third base coach Eddie Rodriguez**, who has handled the basepaths for a fast and aggressive running team for years. Once he gets up to full speed on the basepaths, he has some wind in his sails. It’s easy to see in the outfield when he’s busting full-steam toward a renegade fly ball in the corner, but he doesn’t have much giddyup out of the gate.
Overall, he’s a perfect fit at the top of the lineup for the hard-running, run-manufacturing, bat-on-ball Royals (if you want the Royals to stop manufacturing runs, just give up. They might as well get guys who fit with what they’re doing). His presence has a nice domino effect on the lineup. His consistently plus-defense is a much needed sure thing. His batting average and OBP have been creepily steady since his last year in Japan. Just having a right-fielder without worries for the first time in two years should help the mental health of the front office.
Aoki is not without his problems. He fatigues considerably as the season goes along and that is something the Royals will want to keep an eye on. He’s a great fit under Ned Yost, who is vigilant about rotating and resting players. Still, Yost should pay close attention to Aoki.
*For a primer on the 20-80 scouting scale, check out Kevin Goldstein’s article at Baseball Prospectus. When listening to scouts, baseball front office personnel, writers, or random baseball guys, the 20-80 scouting scale eventually comes up. It’s always a good idea to have knowledge of how players are performing according to this scale so that baseball conversations have a common reference point.
One easy tip: when a player is a 60 hitter, it means he’s a .300 hitter. A .300 hitter is really good, right? Extrapolate that to other areas and any time you see a 60 grade, know that the player is pretty darn good at that thing.
**As pointed out in the comments, Eddie Rodriguez is no longer with the club and was replaced by Dale Sveum