Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 11/16/14
In any other year Norichika Aoki would have garnered a lot more attention, but to Aoki’s detriment 2012 gave us three great rookie seasons from Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Yoenis Cespedes. But if I asked you which rookie had the fourth-best season last year, your answer had better be Aoki.Trout, Harper, and Cespedes aside, Aoki had the best wOBA (.344), wRC+ (115), and WAR (2.9) of any rookie last year. Among all players with at least 500 plate appearances his 30 steals were tied for 12th-most, his 9.4% strikeout rate was sixth-best, and his 1.28 K:BB ratio was 15th-best. Any way you look at it, Aoki deserved his 66th overall ranking last year. We expect more of the same this year.At a GlanceStrengths: R, BA, SBNeutral: OBP, SLG, OPSWeaknesses: HR, RBIPlayer ComparisonsBest-case scenario: Jose Reyes (TOR)Likely scenario: Alejandro De Aza (CHW), Ichiro Suzuki (NYY), Angel Pagan (SF)Worst-case scenario: Michael Brantley (CLE)Norichika Aoki 2013 Fantasy ProjectionMost xBA calculators across the web, including ours, indicate that Aoki should have batted better than his .288 mark last year. With a strikeout rate under 10% and a lot of speed, that’s not a surprising revelation. It will be tough for Aoki to hit much better than .290 if he doesn’t get that 16.9% line drive rate up, but his great K:BB ratio will prevent him from hitting any worse. I’d be shocked if Aoki doesn’t bat at least .280.Statistically, Aoki reminds me a lot of Alejandro De Aza. De Aza has a much higher strikeout rate, double Aoki’s, but both players should have around 30 steals with .280ish averages (Aoki’s could be much higher), around 10 homers, and between 85-95 runs scored. I truly believe that Aoki has a higher ceiling than De Aza because of his plate discipline, but both players are almost identical at this point. This is reflected in their current ADPs, which on Yahoo! are currently 161.5 (De Aza) and 179.2 (Aoki).We have both players listed as top-75 options, and despite their lack of a power game they do enough in those categories to avoid being category killers. If you feel confident you can pair one of them with a bargain outfielder with good power and a solid average but zero speed (Josh Willingham, Nick Swisher, Michael Morse), you should be aggressive targeting starting pitchers in the earlier rounds.
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