Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy Baseball: Norichika Aoki ready for breakout atop Royals lineup

norichika aoki

Royals’ new leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki is poised for a breakout season (Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports)

The Kansas City Royals have a number of outfield options, but if you’re a fantasy baseball owner, newcomer Norichika Aoki could be the best “sleeper” of the group.

After spending two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, Aoki is in K.C. and ready to lead the Royals back to the playoffs for the first time since 1985.  He could do the same for your fantasy team as well.

» Norichika Aoki, RF, Kansas City Royals (current ADP: #196):

The Kansas City Royals have had a difficult time finding a true leadoff hitter in recent years.  So in December, the team decided to address one of the their biggest needs, trading for speedy outfielder — and leadoff man — Norichika Aoki.

After six seasons with the Yakult Swallows of Japan’s Central League, Aoki came over to the United States in 2012 and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.

As the Brewers’ primary leadoff hitter, Aoki had a slash line of .288/.355/.433 with 10 HR, 50 RBI, 81 R, and 30 SB.  His excellent slugging percentage was buoyed by the 37 doubles and four triples he accumulated.

Last year, his production dropped a little, but that can be forgiven, as the Brewers were missing many key parts of their lineup (Ryan Braun, Corey Hart) for much of the season.  Despite the lack of protection, he was still able to post a nearly identical .286 BA and .356 OBP.

Now in Kansas City, Aoki will plug in as the team’s table setter, and boy do they need it.

The Royals tried Alex Gordon in the No. 1 slot last year, and that failed miserably, as the left fielder posted an awful .323 OBP and 112 K from that spot in the order.

Aoki should be able to thrive in a very capable Royals offense.  He’ll be hitting in front of Omar Infante, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Gordon and Salvador Perez, and should have no trouble getting the green light on the base paths.  The Royals led the major leagues in stolen bases last year with 153 total swipes, and were third in attempts.

Hitting in pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium could keep his home run totals around his career averages, but the spacious grounds should allow him to get his extra-base hits back up near his 2012 numbers.  Given how much the Royals run, 30-35 stolen bases is not out of the question, and with how well he hits against left-handed pitchers (.339 BA in 2013), he should be able to reach 600 at bats with ease.

His current ADP of 196 has him getting picked after players like Christian Yelich (178) and Chris Carter (194), but if I’m looking for stability, I’d rather be drafting Norichika Aoki over guys with question marks such as the ones mentioned above.

2014 Projections: .290/.359/.427, 9 HR, 56 RBI, 85 R, 32 SB

» Missed any of my earlier picks?  Please click here for links to all the sleepers I’ve covered from each team so far.

Tags: Fantasy Baseball Fantasy Baseball Sleepers Kansas City Royals Norichika Aoki

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