Scot Gregor gets on the Norichika Aoki band-wagon:
“There’s a kid named (Norichika) Aoki, who is an Ichiro-type outfielder, hitter, runner, defensive player,” said Bobby Valentine, who is wrapping up his sixth and final season managing the the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan. “I don’t think anybody is the caliber of Ichiro, but he is a special left-handed hitting outfielder.” Guess what is at, or near, the top of Williams’ shopping list this season? It’s no secret the Sox are looking for a reliable left-handed bat, and Aoki appears to fit that bill. The 27-year-old Aoki is wrapping up his fifth full season with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in Japan’s Central League. In his first four seasons with the Swallows, Aoki batted .338 with a .406 on-base percentage. Being compared to Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki on any level is a compliment. Aoki’s game has also reminded observers of another player who has often been linked to the White Sox – Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre.
Everything sounded OK until the last 2 words! That Juan Pierre comparison scared the heck out of me!
Anyway, here are Aoki’s stats. His career hitting line (.338/.406/.467) seem better than Pierre’s (.300/.348/.372). But that’s in Japan. I imagine he’ll lose something if he moves to the MLB.
And here’s his player profile from NPB Tracker:
The lefty-hitting, center-fielding Aoki is the closest thing Japan has to another Ichiro, and WBC viewers will probably get to hear the compared quite a bit. The comparisons aren’t really off-base, as the two have pretty similar games. Comparing Aoki to a Japan-era Ichiro, both players have a long stride in their swings, but Aoki gets into more of a crouch and appears to have a more stable lower body. But judge for yourself with some obligatory YouTube footage: here’s a clip chronicling the evolution of Aoki’s swing [dead link] from 2005-2007, and a homerun Ichiro hit off of a rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka in 1999. Both clips are in Japanese, but the video should speak for itself.
Aoki is a bit of a free-swinger, but he’s reduced his strikeouts and increased his slugging percentage in each year of his career. He’s also improved on his batting eye, walking about as much as he strikes out (his walk total actually surpassed his strikeouts in 2007). Another telling stat is that in 2008, 31.2% of his hits went for extra bases, up from 16.4% in his historic rookie year. Note also this improvement came while Yakult moved the fences back in their home, Jingu Stadium.
and from Wikipedia:
Listed at 175 cm (5 ft 8 in) and 80 kg (176 lb), Aoki is described as a protoypical contact hitter for his ability to spray the ball to all fields and utilize his speed on the bases to stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Slotted into the 2-hole in front of current Tigers shortstop Takashi Toritani, Aoki became adept at hitting infield singles to the left side of the infield to get on base during his years at Waseda University. He carried that same approach into the pros, going the opposite way for infield hits and singles to left field so often that teams began employing an “Aoki Shift”, with the third baseman playing shallow and the shortstop shading the 5-6 hole, until 2006.
Aoki has developed more power with each successive season and has now established himself as a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat that can pull the ball as well as hit for a high average (.333 career batting average as of May 13 2009). He is known to be slightly unusual in that he has several different batting stances in his repertoire. While most players shape their mechanics to perfection, Aoki does not hesitate to switch from one stance to another when he runs into hitless stretches (though he holds his bat much more upright than he did earlier in his career). He has attested to the importance of lower body movement to his hitting in interviews.
On the defensive end, Aoki has earned a reputation as a superb center fielder with excellent instincts and range, winning three consecutive Golden Glove awards from 2006 to 2008 and leading all outfielders in the Central League putouts in 2006 and 2007. His throwing arm is accurate, if not especially strong, and he has a very quick release.
Here are more Youtube videos.
Aoki has completed 4 seasons and his japanese club controls him for 5 more though. If he comes to the MLB next year it won’t be as a free-agent but his japanese club would have to post him (be paid). So, I’d not get my hopes up.
I’m still on the Alfredo Despaigne bandwagon though!