The Dodgers start a three game series against the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday and while all eyes typically fall on MVP outfielder Ryan Braun, one of the most important players of the series could be Japanese left fielder Norichika Aoki.
In 2011, Aoki was posted to the MLB by his Japanese team, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, and ended up getting signed by the Brewers. It did not take long for Aoki to adjust to the Majors and became a regular for Milwaukee in 2012 with 119 starts.
Aoki is an athletic player and brings a distinctive style of play with him from overseas. His batting stance and swing will catch your eye throughout the series.
During a pitcher’s wind-up, he kicks his leg up high, bringing it close to his body. As the ball approaches he shifts his weight forward landing softly onto his right foot. Aoki brings together a lot of momentum and uses a lot of arm strength in his swing.
When Aoki makes contact it feels like he is putting the ball exactly where he wants it to land, a skill that many say is not possible.
Footage of Aoki from 2012 shows he had a lot more movement at the plate. He would rock his body back and forth and pump his bat in the air. His calm approach seems to be paying off in 2013.
Aoki had a good rookie season in 2012, finishing fifth in voting for the Rookie of the Year award, but his sophomore season is showing improvement in almost every offensive category.
He is hitting for greater power, yet managing to strike out less, a feat that evades even the most accomplished hitters. He is walking more often, and as of Monday is sporting an on-base percentage over .400.
The only downgrade Aoki has shown in 2013 is on the base paths. Last season he stole 30 of 38 bases, but is only 6 for 11 this year, which has affected his scoring rate quite a bit.
Last season Aoki scored a run 54 percent of the time he got on base, in 2013 that number has fallen to 48 percent, a 12.5 percent decrease in scoring. Other factors impact this, but base running and getting caught stealing seems to be the main culprit.
All in all, Aoki makes for a dangerous leadoff batter. His .407 on-base percentage is important with hitters such as Jean Segura, who leads MLB in batting average, and the powerful Ryan Braun hitting behind him.
The Dodgers start the series against the Brewers on Monday, sending Clayton Kershaw to the mound. With an opposing hitter like Norichika Aoki leading off, things could get interesting in Milwaukee.