Aug 14, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Norichika Aoki (7) attempts to steal second base during the seventh inning of the game against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Texas won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
When news broke that the Kansas City Royals had a new outfielder, it was difficult to restrain those visions of Carlos Beltran dancing inside one’s head like a sugar plum on Christmas Eve. However, Beltran is not returning to Kansas City, at least not yet. Instead, the Royals parted ways with the Will Smith who makes a living as a pitcher, not as a rapper/actor/former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, for Brewers center fielder Norichika Aoki.
What the Royals acquired with Aoki is someone that can step in and become a true leadoff hitter. As good as Alex Gordon has been batting leadoff, having someone that not only gets on base, but actually has an element of speed as well, could make a major impact upon the lineup. Gordon, with his ability to put the ball in play and get on base, profiles better as a second hitter in the lineup. Having two on base machines in front of Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Billy Butler and a hopefully resurgent Mike Moustakas could go a long way towards helping the Royals anemic offense be able to better support their pitching staff.
Aoki is also a solid defensive outfielder, having ranked among the defensive leaders in right field during both of his years in Milwaukee. He also has one of the better arms in right, ranking in the top five in assists. Yet, Aoki is not just a right fielder; he has also appeared in 21 games in center field over the past two seasons as well. In fact, prior to coming stateside, Aoki was primarily a center fielder for the Yakult Swallows. Should he remain in right, the Royals could have a truly great defensive team, with potentially Gold Glove caliber players everywhere except for second as the team is constructed presently.
The acquisition of Norichika Aoki also does not necessarily mean that the Royals are out of the running when it comes to Beltran. Beltran would still fit the need for a power bat in the middle of the lineup, and help deepen the Royals lineup. If that signing does occur, Lorenzo Cain may be moved to better spot as a fourth outfielder. However, now the Royals may not need to sign Beltran, at least as much as it seemed they would have a need for him even a day ago.
Norichika Aoki may not be an exciting name to most people, but he fills several major needs on the Royals. Not only could he be the right fielder they need, but Aoki is also the fast leadoff hitter they have not had since the days of Johnny Damon. Although he is only under contract for 2014 due to the contract he signed coming over from Japan, Aoki could be a candidate for a reasonable extension, potentially making the trade that much better. Getting that type of a player for a pitcher who may not have even cracked the Royals roster for the next couple of seasons may turn out to be a steal for the Royals.
What Aoki brings to the Royals is an element that they have not had in years – a true leadoff hitter.