MLB

Aoki reports to Brewers camp

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PHOENIX (AP)

After seven seasons as a star in Japan, Norichika Aoki feels like a rookie again.

Aoki reported to the Milwaukee Brewers spring training camp Thursday and admitted to being a bit overwhelmed.

''I feel like it's a brand-new feeling being able to play in this environment,'' Aoki said through an interpreter.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke listened to Aoki and quickly tried to make the 30-year-old outfielder comfortable.

''He doesn't have to come into this camp thinking he has to make our team,'' Roenicke said. ''He talked about being like a rookie, he doesn't need to come into this camp thinking he's got to make our team.''

Aoki arrived two days before the first full-team workout Saturday.

The Brewers are counting on him to add depth in an outfield that includes NL MVP Ryan Braun, who had his positive test for a banned substance overturned just hours after Aoki arrived in camp.

Aoki spent his entire professional career with the Yakult Swallows. He hit over .300 in six of his seven full seasons and was a three-time batting champion in Japan's Central League. He was the league's 2005 rookie of the year and is a six-time Gold-Glove award winner.

He joins veterans Braun, Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez in the Brewers' outfield.

''He's a very good outfielder, defensive outfielder, with the Gold Gloves that he's won,'' Roenicke said. ''Obviously he's won batting championships, so he can hit.''

Milwaukee signed the star outfielder Jan. 17 to a two-year deal with a club option for 2014. He bats left-handed, throws right-handed and can play all three outfield positions.

The Brewers are counting on Aoki's versatility in the field and at the plate.

''Because he runs well, because he can bunt, because he can hit, that allows us to be very flexible which is really good for him.'' Roenicke said. ''He should be able to get into more ballgames because of that.

''We feel with his game that he's able to do a lot of things to help us,'' Roenicke added. ''I doubt there's going to be a lot of easy outs from him.''

Yakult accepted the Brewers' bid of $2.5 million under the posting system in December.

Roenicke wouldn't speculate on how many games Aoki would start, but added that his playing time would increase as he became more comfortable with his new surroundings.

''Obviously, he wants to impress us,'' Roenicke said. ''He wants to get as much playing time as he can. Until you're really with a guy and seen him every day what he does, I'll start appreciating more the talents that he has. Right away when a guy's taking batting practice, you can see how he works the field. He does hit the ball to all fields.''

Roenicke wanted to dispel any comparisons to Ichiro, the star outfielder of the Seattle Mariners, who came to the United States in 2001 after nine seasons with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan's Pacific League.

''Whenever somebody compares another player to Ichiro, I just have a hard time with that,'' Roenicke said. ''There's no Ichiros. This is a guy that I'll see once in my lifetime. There's just not many guys like him.''

After Aoki's workout for the team in January, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said the Brewers' new outfield depth could allow them to occasionally start right-fielder Hart at first base.

That possibility became more likely after slugging first baseman Prince Fielder signed with the Detroit Tigers.

Aoki said that he had talked with former Brewer pitcher Takashi Saito about what to expect in Milwaukee. When Aoki's father, Hitoshi, found out his son would be playing in an area noted for its brewing industry, the Brewers instantly had another fan.

Tagged: Tigers, Brewers, Prince Fielder

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