To call Nori Aoki‘s tenure thus far in Kansas City a disappointment would be an understatement. Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Will Smith, Aoki was expected to be the leadoff hitter that the Royals had been lacking, making contact and getting on base with regularity. Even before being shelved with his groin injury, Aoki had been losing playing time in what had become a platoon with Jarrod Dyson.
Two weeks after being placed on the disabled list, the return of Aoki is beginning to creep up on the horizon. He worked out yesterday at Progressive Field, and was encouraged by how his groin muscle felt. Yet, Aoki is still unsure of when he will be going on a rehab assignment.
Although Nori Aoki is eligible to come off the disabled list tomorrow, his stay there is likely to be a bit longer. Even though Aoki feels better about his groin, he still needs a few days of game action to get ready. With much of his game revolving around his speed, being able to test that out in a meaningful game situation will be a better judge of how well Aoki has recuperated than individual drills before the game.
However, when Aoki is ready to return to the major league roster, the Royals will need to make a decision as to what his role will be. Raul Ibanez has been brought on board as the Royals look to see if the 42 year old has anything left in his bat. The Ibanez experiment has resulted in Dyson and Lorenzo Cain seeing their playing time decrease. Since both have outperformed Aoki this season, it is hard to imagine that Aoki would supplant either in the lineup.
In order for Nori Aoki to get consistent playing time at the major league level, Ibanez would likely need to prove that he is, indeed, the shell of himself that he appeared to be with the Angels. Otherwise, Aoki would potentially be the fifth outfielder for the Royals, possibly starting a game or two a week and getting into games mostly as a pinch runner. If Ibanez continues to produce for the Royals, Aoki could find himself on the trade block as there just would not be any room for him on the major league roster.
Nori Aoki is likely to begin his rehab assignment soon. Once that happens, the Royals will be on the clock to deside what, exactly, to do when he is ready to come back.