PHOENIX — One of the more interesting questions facing Brewers manager Ron Roenicke this spring is who to bat in the leadoff position in 2013. In second baseman Rickie Weeks and right fielder Nori Aoki, the Brewers have two different, but effective possibilities to consider.
“Rick and Nori are the two options and there are pros and cons to both of them. I don’t want to say right now that one is definitely a better way to go than another. But it’s going to be one of those two guys,” said Roenicke.
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy also recognizes unique talents of both players.
“Rickie and Nori are different players, but they are both very talented. Both have good speed and play smart. They are both going to be key cogs for us. Rickie can hit anywhere. He can get a base hit, steal a base and hit some homeruns. You can hit him anywhere in the lineup and he’ll contribute. Nori is a special player too. He did a lot of different things well for us last year.”
Weeks, a 2011 All-Star, has been a fixture at the top of the Brewers batting order since 2006, leading off nearly three times more games for the team than any other player. But with the second baseman’s slow start in 2012, the former Japanese batting champion was moved into the top slot and thrived, notching a .288 batting average with a .355 OPB in his first Major League season.
Both players are open to leading off and seem to enjoy the position.
“I like batting leadoff because you are in front of the big bats,” said Aoki through an interpreter. “You’ve got the three, four and five guys behind you and with our lineup there is a good chance, if you get on, that you are going to come around and score. And that’s what I like to do.”
Aoki, who finished fifth in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2012, started 93 games in the leadoff spot last season. He was also a threat on the base paths, stealing 30 bags while only being caught eight times.
“Usually I had the green light to run. In certain obvious situations I had to hold off, but I was pretty much free to run. It’s one of the ways I can help the team,” said Aoki.
Aoki’s teammates also recognize his ability to contribute.
“He exceeded all of our expectations last season,” said Ryan Braun. “He did a lot of different things. He was great offensively, defensively and on the base paths. He was incredible last year. I’m excited to play with him again this year.”
Weeks, with 25 career leadoff homeruns, possess power that Aoki has not shown. And while the Brewers top draft pick in 2003 may not be the prototypical leadoff hitter, he’s worked hard to succeed in the position.
“Over my whole career I’ve batted leadoff more than any other place. I’ve become pretty comfortable there. You can do a lot of different things from there. You get more at bats and a lot of chances to help the team,” said Weeks. “I’ve learned to be a better leadoff hitter. Early in my career I had to fight myself a lot. I wasn’t a guy who took a lot of pitches trying to get on base. I wasn’t very patient. I wanted to get there though and I’ve worked hard to get there. I’m very comfortable batting leadoff now.”
Weeks, coming off a severe ankle injury in 2011, got off to a slow start last season, hitting under .200 into July. As he continued to struggle, Weeks was dropped to sixth in batting order. However, in mid-August Roenicke installed Weeks in the second spot and the team began to surge, coming from twelve games under .500 to finish with a record of 83-79. Weeks also warmed finishing the season with a .230 average, a .328 OPB, 21 homeruns and 63 RBI’s.
Roenicke, who as a player suffered an ankle injury similar to Weeks’, expects his second baseman to pick-up on last year’s late season success and return to the form he showed in 2010 when he led off 155 games for the team, hitting .266 with career bests in homeruns and RBI’s.
“I expect Rick to do what he did two years ago before he got hurt. Take his walks. He’s going to strike out, but he’s an on-base guy and obviously a very dangerous hitter. I’m not asking him to do anything different. He’s played long enough and he’s been successful long enough.”
Still, for now at least, Roenicke is leaning towards Aoki leading off and Weeks in the two spot.
“We’ll start with probably Nori there leading off and see how it goes and what we talk about. And Rick, he’ll start off at number two. But we’ll see how things go and what we talk about.”