Aoki’s role could be diminished when he returns from the DL
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For over a month now, we have seen quite a bit of the outfield of Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain.
It is, without question, the fastest, most ground-covering trio the Royals can employ, especially in the vast stretches of the Kauffman Stadium outfield.
Manager Ned Yost knows this, of course. He began using that trio over a month ago specifically for defense in late innings.
Starting right fielder Nori Aoki has been the odd man out in late innings, being pulled for Dyson.
And now that Aoki is on the disabled list and we’re seeing that Gordon-Dyson-Cain trio virtually full time, the question for Yost is: Could Aoki possibly lose his starting role?
Yost doesn’t seem ready to relegate Aoki to a backup role. Not just yet, at least not publicly.
Asked if Aoki will resume his starting role when he comes off the disabled list, Yost said, "Pretty much. We’d go with it.
"Dyson and (Justin) Maxwell can play big roles off your bench. Nori has been a good hitter most of his career. I would think he would step right back in when he gets healthy."
But then Yost dropped this disclaimer: "But again, we’ll see where we’re at when that happens."
The problem is that Aoki has been a somewhat disappointing acquisition. His defense — shaky through April — improved marginally before he got hurt.
But offensively, Aoki has put forth a very pedestrian slash line of .263/.326/.324. And he has been anything but a disrupter at the top of the order — he has just seven steals and has been caught four times.
And those 18 homers Aoki hit for Milwaukee the last two years? Royals officials wonder where those came from.
Yost offered, "Well, I’m guessing it was the small parks in Milwaukee’s division. And Milwaukee is a hitter’s park."
Yost can recall Aoki hitting a ball to the warning track once with the Royals — a ground-rule double in Toronto.
"Aoki did hit a homer in spring training," Yost was reminded.
"Really?" Yost asked. "I don’t remember that."
Not that the Royals were expecting a lot of pop out of Aoki’s bat.
But it is just one of several elements missing in Aoki’s skill set — his arm, range and overall speed are average at best — that have club officials wondering about an upgrade (again) at that position.
One solution might be right in front of them: When Aoki is healthy, the Royals could keep Dyson in center and Cain in right, at least against right-handers.
A quirky platoon with Dyson and Aoki might just work because Aoki, strangely enough for a left-handed hitter, actually hits left-handed pitchers better — a .313/.359/.403 slash line over his career compared with .269/.346/.377 against righties.
Another development that might make that lineup even more logical to Yost is Cain’s transition to the leadoff spot.
The Royals have been searching for a way to get Cain’s bat higher in the order and they would have no issue at all if he simply claimed the leadoff spot over the next 10 days or so. Cain, in the last four games there, has had two two-hit games. He also hit a leadoff homer Wednesday, the Royals’ first leadoff homer in a game since Alex Gordon did so last September.
"I don’t mind having a little pop up there," Yost said.
Stay tuned. Aoki is eligible to come off the disabled list July 5.