Norichika Aoki entered 2012 as the fourth outfielder on the Milwaukee Brewers. By the time the season ended, Aoki was the 27th ranked outfielder in the league, according to ESPN’s Fantasy Baseball Player Rater.
It’s not very often a player with absolutely no minor league experience makes the kind of impact Aoki did in his first season. In 2013, Aoki will need to replicate his numbers from last year in order to stay as a top-30 outfielder in fantasy baseball. With his rare combination of speed, runs — and to a lesser extent — power, Aoki has the tools to repeat his success again in 2013.
Heading into 2012, no one really had any high expectations for Aoki. After all, a 30-year-old outfielder who’s only about 5-10 and 170 pounds couldn’t steal a starting job from Nyjer Morgan, who was worth 3.9 WAR in 2011. Despite his great stolen base numbers in Japan, ZiPS only projected Aoki to steal 10 bases if given over 600 AB’s.
It was because of projections like these that Aoki was not drafted in most fantasy leagues before the 2012 season. All Milwaukee was asking Aoki to do was to become a quality fourth outfielder who could fill in when needed. It took a little while, but Aoki far exceeded being a fourth outfielder and became the type of player he was in Japan.
In 2012, Aoki hit .288/.355/.433 with 30 stolen bases and home runs in 588 AB’s. Out of the fifteen players in 2012 that stole 30 bases, Aoki was one of only 10 to hit 10 or more homers.
Not to mention, only one player out of those 15 struck out at a lesser rate than Aoki did. Aoki finished the season ranked higher among outfielders like Bryce Harper, Matt Kemp and numerous other stars.
Another statistic that impressed me about Aoki is that he hit more than one and HRs than double plays. He had a fantastic 2012, but the big question is whether or not he can repeat his success in 2013?
The 2013 Bill James Projections predict that Aoki will hit .294/.364/.433 with eight HRs and 22 stolen bases next year. If Aoki posted these numbers, his batting average and on-base percentage would be improved from 2012, but his HRs and steals would decrease. I tend to side with James on Aoki’s projection, except I believe that he will steal thirty bases again in 2012. Unlike most players with only one year of Major League experience, Aoki seems like a pretty good bet to repeat his stats from 2012.
With what he did last season, Aoki has now become a player that will be owned in pretty much every fantasy baseball league from day one. In Tristan Cockroft’s Top 250 for 2013 at ESPN, he ranked Aoki at 184th among all fantasy players in 2013. The Consensus Outfield rankings at Fake Teams has Aoki as the 51st outfielder going into 2013. If fantasy owners are stubborn and don’t think Aoki will be able to repeat or improve upon his 2012 stats, he could end up being a late-round bargain for fantasy owners.
Aoki slid under the radar last season for a player who for average and stole 30 bases. The hardest part of his second season in the Majors will likely be adjusting to pitchers exploiting the weak spots in his swing. Aoki has a short swing, so he doesn’t seem like the kind of player that wouldn’t be able to adjust to pitchers knowing him better.
It’s not often one feels confident in predicting what to expect out of a rookie in their second year, but I’d be very surprised if Aoki’s numbers look all that different in his second year. Aoki is a great find in fantasy league where an owner is searching for an outfielder with speed and just enough hitting ability.