Norichika Aoki had his best day in spring training during the biggest media circus of his time in the states so far. With Yu Darvish starting opposite the Brewers in March 19th’s Cactus League game, all eyes were on the Brewers’ own new Japanese import. Aoki brought just a .194 average into the game but went 3-for-3 with three RBIs, including a base hit off of his fellow countryman Darvish. Although most viewers had switched away by the sixth inning, Aoki showed something arguably more important in his third at-bat of the day, ripping a triple into the right field corner, just Aoki’s second extra base hit as a Brewer.
Although there are plenty of questions to be answered with regards to how Aoki will hit in the major leagues, we have a pretty good idea of his power, at least in terms of raw yardage. Let’s just say he’s more Tom Watson than Bubba Watson. Aoki hit at least 14 home runs every season in Japan, but upon a move to a new standardized ball in 2011, Aoki’s home run total dropped to just four. It’s very difficult to imagine Aoki every hitting for significant home run power in major league baseball.
Aoki will have to be more than just a dink-and-dunk singles hitter for the Brewers to be able to justify using him in a corner outfield spot. And that means he is going to have to hit doubles and he is going to have to hit triples. Monday’s game showed us just a little bit of how he may go about that (video here): line drives and speed. Although this particular ball got caught in the corner long enough for Prince Fielder to leg out a triple, Aoki has the speed to turn line drive gap shots from doubles into triples and line drive base hits down the lines into doubles.
It doesn’t appear that the Brewers will have to rely on Aoki as a starting right fielder for very long, as Corey Hart’s knee surgery appears to be healing quickly. If they do need a replacement in the outfield, however, Aoki will have to show more of the line drive power he finally exhibited on Monday. At least now we see he is capable.