Programming note: For comprehensive Giants coverage from Arizona, watch SportsNet Central tonight at 7 p.m., 10:30 and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Nori Aoki’s innocent press conference joke that he wanted to wrestle Madison Bumgarner got so much play in the Giants clubhouse that even general manager Brian Sabean referenced it this week. Ultimately, the two did not tango.
“When I first met him, he was a little bigger than I expected,” Aoki said through translator Kosuke Inaji on Tuesday afternoon.
The new Giants left fielder wore a wide smile as he met with English-speaking reporters and then doubled back to talk to a sizable Japanese contingent that documented his first day in Giants camp. He joked that Bumgarner is so big that weapons should be allowed in any wrestling match, although that plan might not be a great one considering the size of the axe Bumgarner carried for a photo shoot on Monday.
Aoki kept it serious on the field, shooting the gaps repeatedly during his BP session and then running out to left field to shag fly balls. The Giants expect big things from the former Kansas City Royal, and Aoki’s presence could lead to lineup changes. Manager Bruce Bochy said he’ll experiment with having Aoki hit leadoff this spring, allowing Angel Pagan to move down in the order and make up for some of what the Giants lost when Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse departed.
Aoki’s on-base percentage has been between .349 and .356 in each of his first three seasons in the big leagues and he has primarily been a leadoff hitter.
“He’ll be great in that ballpark,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who had Aoki for two years in Milwaukee. “In that type of park, you want a good hitter who works the counts. He’s a tough out. He can bunt when you need him to, squeeze, steal a base.”
As Roenicke went through the Giants options — the most likely one still being Pagan at the top and Joe Panik hitting second — he talked about how Aoki could be a perfect No. 8 hitter for the Giants. Bochy is undecided, but he’s so intrigued by the possibility of Aoki hitting leadoff at some point that he already has approached Pagan about the potential changes.
“He’s a catalyst,” Bochy said of Aoki, using a word he often has attached to Pagan. “He can do a lot of things to get on base. He’s a tough out who uses the whole field and adds speed.”
That last trait will come in handy at AT&T Park, where Aoki -- who has just 19 homers in three seasons but has stolen 67 bases -- will play left field. He has only eight starts in left in the big leagues and was a right fielder when the Giants faced the Royals in the World Series last fall. Aoki was often replaced late in games, but Royals manager Ned Yost said that was only because Jarrod Dyson is such an outstanding defender that Yost wanted to get him in center for the final innings. That moved Lorenzo Cain, also a Gold Glove-level center fielder, to right and bumped Aoki to the bench.
“He’ll be fine in left. He’ll be fine,” Yost said. “Nori is a good little player. We’re really going to miss him.”
Aoki traded one pennant-winning clubhouse for another, and on Day 1 he liked what he saw from the Giants, saying the passion stuck out during a pre-workout meeting. He also met with Bochy individually.
“I told him 30 home runs,” Bochy joked when asked about his expectations. “He said he would hit 24.”
Alex Pavlovic will appear on Yahoo SportsTalk Live tonight at 7:30 p.m. and 11 to discuss all things Giants at spring training.