MVBrewers is a player-by-player look at the most valuable members of the 2012 Brewers, as voted on by you. Here's where we stand so far:
1. Ryan Braun
2. Aramis Ramirez
3. Yovani Gallardo
4. Corey Hart
5. Norichika Aoki
The voting for the #6 spot will open at 3 pm today.
If you're maintaining a list of "Doug Melvin acquisitions that worked out better than anyone could have expected," you can probably add Norichika Aoki to it.
Despite the fact that they don't scout Japan the Brewers bidded on the rights to negotiate with Aoki last winter, and won. After working out a deal that paid him less than what he would have made in Japan, the Brewers brought Aoki to camp without a clear position to play (Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Nyjer Morgan and Corey Hart were all ahead of him in the outfield) and with question marks at best about his ability to perform at a major league level.
Things were a little slow for Aoki at first: He made just three starts and 27 plate appearances in April despite hitting .304/.385/.478 and still only got 83 plate appearances in May despite his numbers remaining somewhat constant. From June 2 on, though, Aoki started 101 of the Brewers' final 110 games and hit .286/.354/.430. He's a fringe candidate for NL Rookie of the Year and probably a near lock to open the 2013 season as the Brewers' starting right fielder.
Aoki gives the Brewers their first prototypical leadoff hitter in a long time. His .355 OBP was the fourth best on the team among qualified players, and his 30 stolen bases were tied for second behind Carlos Gomez (37). His power was also a nice surprise: He hit ten home runs this season and is only the second Japanese player ever to post a 10 HR, 30 SB season (joining Ichiro, who has done it twice).
Aoki's first season in the US really took a sharp turn in the right direction on June 7 in a game against the Cubs. Aoki's first hit on the day was a fourth inning solo home run, his second of the season and his outside-the-park homer. He also hit an infield single and scored a run in the eighth before coming up again to lead off the bottom of the tenth with the game tied 3-3. Aoki's second homer of the day gave the Brewers a 4-3, walkoff victory.
Here are the highlights from Aoki's blasts:
The Brewers got a bargain on Aoki in 2012 and project to do so again in 2013 and perhaps 2014. Aoki signed a two year, $2.5 million deal with the Brewers last winter that includes a $1.5 million club option for 2014. Aoki's play this year allowed him to reach some incentives in his deal, but he'll still likely make less than $10 million over three seasons in Milwaukee.
Even if you add on the $2.5 million the Brewers had to pay the Yakult Swallows to bring Aoki to the states, the Brewers got a great deal here.