While most news sources recover from the Yu Darvish bidding fallout and subsequent contract negotiations, the Norichika Aoki buzz/hype has remained silent or nonexisstent. Perhaps the media overlooks Aoki because at first glance he seems like every other Japanese hitter not named Hideki Matsui or Ichiro, which is to say he looks like a future disappointment. Perhaps it’s only because they have no idea how to spell or pronounce his first name and Yu Darvish is just plain easier. Hopefully Major League Baseball teams are more aware of Aoki’s abilities than the media is.
Aoki brings to the table more than any Japanese hitter in the post Matsui-Ichiro NPB era. In fact, Aoki has been considered by some, the best pure hitter Japan has ever produced since Ichiro. In his last four years leading up to 2011 Aoki produced an average of .339/.421 31 doubles 16 homeruns and 20 SB. Fans should take these numbers with a grain of salt because no hitter, Ichiro included, has ever come to America and post the same numbers they did in Japan. For what it’s worth, Ichiro’s last four years leading up to transition to American baseball were .358/.423 29 doubles 16 homeruns and 21 SB.
Ichiro and Aoki do not share the same skill set though. Ichiro is one of the greatest defensive outfielders of all time and has speed to burn, especially coming from the left side of the plate. Aoki is an average corner outfielder and runs well, but not “Ichiro” well. Ichiro also has some serious homerun power that he sacrifices for the sake of getting on base. Aoki doesn’t share the same talent, though it seems accurate to describe the amount of pop in his bat as “gap power”. Still, in a market where back up utility infielders are landing multi-year deal worth more than 10 million dollars, it makes sense to put in a modest bid for Aoki. At worst it would cost a Major League team is a few million dollars for a capable 4th outfielder. At best? I’ll let you decide that.
But with such solid resume, consistent production and praise for his “hit tool”, it’s hard to envision Aoki being anything but a moderate success in the big leagues. Aoki seems to bring more to the table than the most recently touted Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome. Fukudome came into the majors advertised as a solid defensive outfielder with decent power and great plate discipline and didn’t exactly disappoint. His career .260/.361 line is certainly nothing to scoff at. I anticipate Aoki will be of the Kosuke Fukudome or David DeJesus breed of player, the type that contributes across the board. Though never spectacular, it’s usually enough to remain in the lineup on a daily basis.