PHOENIX — Listed at 5-foot-9 and just over 180 pounds, Norichika Aoki will never be confused with any of the hulking sluggers in the major leagues.
Aoki reported to his second spring camp with the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday looking considerably more ‘buff’ than a year ago, however.
“He looks good, strong,” said manager Ron Roenicke. “I think he wants to be a 20-, 30-homer guy this year.”
Roenicke was kidding, of course, and Aoki got a laugh when told of that comment. The 31-year-old outfielder did say he underwent more comprehensive training over the off-season after experiencing the rigors of his first major-league season.
“I did change my workout around,” he said. “I did try to get physically stronger for the season.”
Aoki is so serious about preparing for the 2013 season that he opted not to play for his native Japan in the World Baseball Classic this spring. Considering his country is the two-time defending champion, there was considerable pressure to commit to the tournament again, but Aoki stood firm.
“I had to think about it a lot,” he said through translator Kosuke Inaji. “I wanted to get ready for our season here.
“I kind of got the hang of what spring training is like over here after my experience last year, so I wanted to prepare for the season now that I knew what to expect. Last year, I came without knowing how it worked over here.?
Roenicke, who has 12 players from his 40-man roster committed to playing in the WBC as well as three others from the organization, is pleased that Aoki opted to stay in the Brewers?? camp.
“We’ve got enough guys in the WBC; I’m glad he didn’t join in,” said Roenicke.
“I think it’s important for him to be here. Last year, he came in under unusual circumstances for him, trying to make a team. I know he wanted to start. Coming to a different country, the new language, there was a lot there.
“This year, he’s definitely more comfortable, but I still think for him to be here the whole time is important for him; it’s important for us.”
Aoki emerged as the regular rightfielder last season after Corey Hart was moved to first base to replace injured Mat Gamel. Aoki started 99 games in the leadoff spot and 20 batting second, with a combined .357 on-base percentage.
Roenicke has been mulling Aoki and second baseman Rickie Weeks atop the lineup, trying to decide the best 1-2 alignment. When exhibition play starts, Roenicke said Aoki will get first shot at leading off.
“We’ll probably start out with Nori leading off when we start the games, and then we’ll see how it goes,” Roenicke said.
“(Aoki) can do a lot of different things. He sees a lot of pitches, which is really important for me. He’ll walk, he stole a lot of bases last year, all of those things are important in the leadoff spot.
“But the biggest thing is getting on base. . . . It sets the tone for what you do, and I’m hopeful that the on-base percentage will still be there and get better.”
Aoki got better as the 2012 season progressed, finishing with a .288 batting average, 10 home runs, 50 runs batted in, 30 stolen bases and 37 doubles.
“Last year he came in here knowing he had to show us something,” Roenicke said. “This year, it’s a little different. Because of the type of person he is, I think he’ll still go about it the same way. But it is a little different. I think he should enjoy it more, the more he gets comfortable with things.”
Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.