Feb 25, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals right fielder Norichika Aoki (23) takes batting practice during a workout at Surprise Stadium practice area. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Norichika Aoki is Ready to Lead the Royals Attack

Feb 25, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals right fielder Norichika Aoki (23) fields a ball during a workout at Surprise Stadium practice area. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

As Kansas City Royals fans, we look back with fondness to the teams of the early to mid 1980′s. Those teams marked the heyday of Royals baseball, a time when the Royals were perennial playoff contenders. Back then, the Royals had designed a team based off of putting the ball into play and blazing speed. Of course, it helped to have a Hall of Fame talent like George Brett anchoring the lineup.

While it is far too early for anyone in the Royals lineup to be compared to Brett, the 2014 incarnation of the Royals is starting to look like the teams of old. The Royals are designed to get on base and put pressure on the opposing defense. And it all begins with the new leadoff hitter, Norichika Aoki.

Aoki gives the Royals their first true leadoff hitter since Johnny Damon was traded back in 2001. He puts the ball in play, rarely strikes out and is willing to take a walk. Aoki is also a speed threat, and is the perfect instigator for the Royals pressure based attack. Now that Spring Training games have started, he is looking forward to showing the Royals exactly what type of player he can be.

“I just try to see the ball as deep as possible in the zone and try to make contact, and I just want to be able to hit any ball that’s thrown to me,” Aoki said.

Thus far, Norichika Aoki has done his part. In both Spring Training games, Aoki has worked the count, taking pitches and making the pitcher work to retire him. All that he really needs to do at this point is work on improving his stolen base percentage. Last season, Aoki stole 20 bases, but was caught 12 times. On his end, he thinks he knows how to correct that problem.

“It’s something I’m working on, and I also know some of the reasons why I was thrown out some of those times last year.”

For the Royals pressure and contact based attack to work, they will need Aoki to get back to being the type of player he was in Japan and in his first year in Milwaukee. While no one expects him to be stealing 50 bases, if he can get back to the success rate he had in his first season, when he stole 30 bases in 38 attempts, the Royals lineup will become that much more formidable.

In a time when the Earl Weaver strategy of waiting for the three run home run has become the norm, the Royals will look like a throwback to the days when teams ran roughshod on the opposition. Norichika Aoki is expected to be the catalyst to that attack.

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  • Austin New

    I am very excited to see this line-up in action! This is the first traditional MLB line-up that the Royals have used since 2001. I can’t wait!!

    • Dave Hill

      Same here. It should be fun to watch.

    • Ardent Shepherd

      This is the first time in a long time that the Royals have fielded a legitimate lineup. I’m just happy that we finally have a lead-off hitter! Gordon is a great player, and could lead off, but I think that he will have better numbers all around in 3-5 hole. It’s going to be an exciting year if Aoki can get the table set to start games.

  • jimfetterolf

    It might have been Hunter who looked at Aoki’s caught-stealing last year and noticed that it was usually at the hand of above average catchers. seems part of it.

    • Hunter Samuels

      Yep. It was a combination of good throwing catchers (caught by Russell Martin 3 times), a few failed bunt/squeeze plays, and just a little bit too much aggressiveness.

    • Dave Hill

      It was. And it is a good thing that Aoki recognizes what he was doing wrong last year as well, and is taking steps to correct it. He seems like the right type of leadoff hitter for the Royals – someone who is not only fast, but smart enough to figure out how to pick his spots and take advantage of his speed. I’m really looking forward to seeing him in action.

  • moretrouble

    There’s a lot more to it than just saying Aoki needs to be a better stealer. Maybe he doesn’t. It could be that they had him steal at the wrong times, they gave him the green light when opponents “knew” he was going to go; they asked him to force a steal in situations that caused failure.

    On the other hand, maybe Aoki needs to read pitchers better — be more aware of the quick pitch tendencies, or run on breaking pitch counts; that sort of thing. Or, perhaps, he should just be more selective about who he runs on — which pitchers as well as what catchers. The coaching staff needs to set him up for success.

    KC led the MLB in stolen bases last year and their success rate was excellent. Although they did far more stealing in the early 80s, their success rate was lower back then. Today, KC is pretty careful about when to employ the steal, who they steal on and what pitch they go on.

    I think Aoki will have a higher success rate than in the past. KC’s coaches are very good at strategy; they’ll set him up for success. And, I would imagine we’ll see a lot of small ball played with the bottom/top of the order. That strategy served KC well last year and I expect it to continue.

    • Dave Hill

      I agree that he’ll have more success this year. When Aoki said he knew what he needed to work on, that was all I needed to feel that he’ll be a much better basestealer this year.