Nori Aoki carried a bag stocked with bats as he approached the Royals facility. He walked with his interpreter, Kosuke Inaji. It was a low-profile entrance for one of the higher-profile additions the Royals made this winter.
The team dealt to Milwaukee left-hander Will Smith, who is under team control through 2019, for one season of Aoki. He turned 32 last month. This will be his third season in the majors, after playing nine years with the Yakult Swallows in Nippon Professional Baseball.
"I feel like I can fit in real well with this team," Aoki said through Inaji. "I’ve looked up some stuff on this team as well, and it’s a team that I’m happy to be on."
His knowledge about franchise history may not be vast – Aoki said his impression of the organization was that Kauffman Stadium is "a really nice field" – but his value for this club is sizable. The team traded for Aoki in hopes of installing him as their leadoff hitter and right fielder. During two seasons in Milwaukee, Aoki punched up a .355 on-base percentage and struck out in his 7.5 percent of his plate appearances.
"I’d like to be able to become the kind of player that our GM and our manager want me to become," Aoki said.
Aoki’s presence also allows Alex Gordon to move back into the middle of the order, a maneuver that excites team officials. During the winter, manager Ned Yost spoke with Aoki briefly over the phone. He received glowing reports from friends in the Brewers organization.
"They loved him in Milwaukee," Yost said. "The fans, the organization. He’s a player that really fits our profile. Plays with a lot of energy. Very athletic. A guy that’s really going to open up the top of the order for us. We’ve haven’t had that player for the last couple years."
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