Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers – #7 Norichika Aoki

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It’s just one week away.

It’s getting kind of late here on a Monday, but I need to get this article written about today’s subject so that I can move on to dissecting the Kyle Lohse deal.

aokiAnyway, let’s get to it as we take a closer look at…

Norichika Aoki.

An absolute divergence from the norm in a couple of different ways, Nori Aoki came to the Milwaukee Brewers before the 2012 season by way of the MLB posting system. Not only had the Brewers never won the posting on a Japanese player, they don’t even scout the country for talent. That was the biggest shocker of the entire situation because the resume that Aoki carried with him across the Pacific Ocean.

In case you need a reminder, Aoki was a former NPB batting champion, seven-time All-Star, six-time Golden Glove Award winner, and seven-time member of the Best Nine which is like the equivalent of an All-Pro team.

And yet, the Brewers won the bidding at just $2.5 million. Why? That’s the other reminder. After a switch to a new baseball prior to the 2011 season, Aoki’s offensive numbers suffered as he stubbornly refused to adjust initially.

After a Major League Baseball debut at .288/.355/.433, 150 H, 81 R, 51 extra-base hits, 30 stolen bases against eight failures, all while only striking out 55 times in 520 AB over 151 games…

I think Aoki has adjusted quite nicely.

His play in the field was a bit of a question as well when he first arrived. He played centerfield in Japan, but could he handle a that position in MLB? If not, could his arm play in right field? Would he just be a bench player who, given the structure of the 25-man roster entering 2012, began the year as the fifth outfielder? From a personal standpoint, could he adjust to the different training style in MLB?

The answers to those questions would be forced upon the Brewers, especially after Mat Gamel went down with a knee injury and they began the experiment of Corey Hart playing first base. Aoki’s arm proved accurate and strong enough to play in right field where his range was an issue. At the plate, Aoki contributed at the top of the lineup and really helped fill a void during the first half of the year with Rickie Weeks scuffling so hard.

Aoki was far more key a player in 2012 than Doug Melvin probably thought he would be when they innocently tossed that $2.5 million in the hat for the opportunity to negotiate with the NPB star.

Heading in 2013, Aoki is set to lead off Ron Roenicke’s batting order on Opening Day (in just seven days!) along with most other days as well. He’ll be the every day right fielder heading into the season for the first time, but his play at the plate will be a significant factor in how well the Brewers follow up their collectively excellent 2012 offensive season.

Working Aoki’s favor is that he handles left-handed pitching as well as he does. He posted a .270 batting average in 185 at-bats (against a .299 vs RHP). As should be expected, he was superior against righties, but that he isn’t a platoon candidate is a huge deal to stability and consistency atop a lineup that had precious little of that to speak of in 2012.

Aoki flashes excellence, exudes a humility that has become synonymous for the most part with Japanese professionals, and is both a fun and exciting player to watch on the diamond.

The Brewers have Aoki’s services for a couple of seasons yet, if they choose to exercise an affordable team option for 2014. If 2012 was any indication, he’ll be an integral part of the team’s success while he’s in town.

Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:

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