Following the 2013 season, the Royals had several holes in their lineup. While Alex Gordon had done an admirable job atop the Royals lineup, the Royals still lacked a true leadoff hitter, someone to plug into the second spot in the lineup and a true power hitter. After missing out on Carlos Beltran during free agency, the Royals managed to plug the first two holes with Nori Aoki and Omar Infante.
Both have disappointed thus far, at least offensively. Infante’s struggles to the start of the season carry the injury caveat, as he has dealt with a myriad of injuries this season. Aoki, on the other hand, has been healthy; however, he has not been the dynamic leadoff hitter that the Royals had hoped for. Despite being solid at Kauffman Stadium, Aoki is only hitting at a .260/.322/.317 rate this season. Aoki is never going to be confused for a power hitter, but he has a grand total of twelve extra base hits. With his speed, it would be expected that Aoki may be able to get a few more doubles and triples, but that has not been the case this season.
The Royals offense has struggled virtually everywhere, but Nori Aoki stands out as he is expected to be the catalyst of the lineup. Instead, heading into last night’s game, the Royals rank 19th in on base percentage from their leadoff hitters, with at .316. Amongst major league right fielders, the Royals rank 21st in on base percentage, and dead last in slugging and OPS.
So, what should the Royals do with Aoki? In theory, as a slap hitting outfielder with speed and the ability to put the bat on the ball, he should fit perfectly into the type of lineup that the Royals were attempting to create. Likewise, his defense, which had been decent with the Milwaukee Brewers and of Gold Glove quality in Japan, was expected to help an already stellar defense become that much better. Instead, Aoki just has not lived up to that billing thus far as a member of the Royals, at least with the bat.
As the Royals do not have ties to Nori Aoki beyond this year due to his impending free agency, right field could be a position that they look to upgrade at the deadline. Unfortunately, that also would also mean replacing their leadoff hitter at the same time. Right now, unless Chris Denorfia of the San Diego Padres, Dexter Fowler of the Houston Astros or the return of David DeJesus would count as an upgrade, that type of player may not be available.
A lot can happen between now and the end of July. As more teams fall out of contention, other players could become available that could help the Royals lineup. Likewise, Aoki could turn back into the player that the Royals felt they were getting when they traded for him back in December, a slap hitting dynamo that can cause havoc atop the lineup.
Even though Nori Aoki has been a slight upgrade over what the Royals had in right field last year, they expected far more from their leadoff hitter. If Aoki is unable to produce at that desired level and the Royals remain in the playoff hunt, they may be seeking an upgrade yet again.