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.