• Aaron Hicks' stock will be rising this offseason

    As Seth Stohs mentioned yesterday, while the rest of us at Twins Daily were all stark raving mad about Kyle Gibson’s performance in the Arizona Fall League, another Twins prospect was making noise even further south. Outfielder Aaron Hicks, who is playing winter ball in Venezuela, is off to a fast start this offseason, matching the expectation he set from his in-season performance at New Britain.

    Of course, not long ago, Hicks was in danger of falling off the “top prospect” radar although. Heading into the 2011 season, Baseball America dropped him from 19TH to 45TH despite a terrific first full season at the low-A level in Beloit. Then, as if Baseball America’s rankings had influence, Hicks lost some power and over 30 points in the batting average at Ft Myers the following year.

    The criticism on Hicks’s approach is that he could be too passive at times. Hicks boasts a high strikeout rate and a significant portion of those (39%) in 2011 were of the caught-looking variety, an indication that he was not aggressive enough with two strikes on him. Of course, the other side of the coin is that it has led to a 14% career minor league walk rate – a solid pillar supporting his .379 on-base percentage. While walks are en vogue with OBP-ers, there are those in the system who would like to see him use his six-foot-two athletic frame to transfer some power into the ball.

    His 2010 season at Beloit had him smacking eight home runs but that total dwindled down to five after his foray with the Miracle in Fort Myers. Part of the reason for the drop off simply had to do with the offensive difficulty of the Florida State League. As the Star Tribune’s Phil Miller explained this year, hitting is dern tough way down south:

    Those fences are one reason. Most Florida State League parks double as spring-training homes for major-league teams, and are built with larger dimensions than plenty of minor-league parks around the country. The quality of pitchers tends to be high, too, with more college pitchers, armed with more than only a fastball, than in the lower levels.

    Then there's the weather -- beautiful in April and May, but frequently blistering hot, with heavy humidity, once summer arrives. The temperature takes a toll on everyday players as the season wears on, until "you're so worn out by the end of the game," according to Morneau. "It's hard to maintain your strength."
    When he transitioned from high-A ball in the Florida State League to an even more polished level of competition of the double-A Eastern League, rather than being buried by the tougher pitching Hicks elevated his game. His matriculation to double-A ball could have also been a hindrance - given the significant leap in talent - but Hicks did not allow it. He hit a healthy .286/.384/.460 with 13 home runs.

    Where did this production come from? Was it simply a course correction after leaving the Florida State League or did Hicks make adjustments elsewhere?

    Being a switch-hitter, Hicks has had two sides of the plate in which to polish his mechanics and both have undergone some interesting transformations since 2011.

    Hicks from the right:



    While the angles and the graininess of the 2012 minor league camera shot do not provide the highest quality to judge these two stances on, there are some things that you can derive without having the same shot side-by-side.

    The first is where his hands are set pre-swing. While he has a similar hold, in these two pictures you can see that his elbows/hands are lower during his time with the Miracle (left) then they were with the Rock Cats (right). This may sound like a minute detail but elevated hands, in theory, create more leverage by engaging the top hand. For a line drive/ground ball hitter, this equates to harder hit balls, perhaps as easily identifiable as his spike in isolated power (from .124 in 2011 to .173 in 2012) and a big jump in batting average on balls in play (from .308 to .346).

    The second difference between 2011 Hicks and 2012 Hicks is the lowered stance with the deeper knee bend. This compacted stance figures to generate more power from his hips and lower half. In addition to the higher hand set this, according to minorleaguecentral.com, has lead to a higher fly ball rate from the right-side (from 29% in 2011 to 39% in 2012) and more home runs (from 3 to 7).

    Hicks from the left:



    The same disclaimer from above applies to this one as well: the angle and the graininess distort some perception and do not provide a crystal clear view to compare fully.

    As opposed to the shots above, these two images are of Hicks striding from the left-hand side. The first thing that stands out is where his hands are had at the loaded position. In the 2011 instance (left), his hands are lower and, judging by the angle, closer to his body. In the 2012 version (right), his hands are slightly higher and away from his body. This should give him a quicker path to the ball.

    Interestingly, when Hicks was first drafted, he had a severely long swing from the left side (which you can see in this pre-draft swing .gif here). His hands were significantly higher which led to an elongated swing. So these modifications are simply the evolution in shortening that swing. Also, similar to the aforementioned right-hand side, he is also compacted more which gives leaves him able to generate power from the lower-half better.

    The alterations made have led to a higher line drive rate (from 13% to 19%) and more power (from 2 home runs to 6) from this side of the plate.

    ****

    This should be viewed as very positive development for the 23 year old prospect. Along with his above average defense – including his exceptional arm in the outfield – Hicks has reaffirmed the belief that he is an elite prospect after putting up terrific numbers in double-A. With some seasoning in Rochester schedule for this year, if this progress continues, Hicks could quickly make his way into the Twins outfield.
    This article was originally published in blog: Aaron Hicks' stock will be rising this offseason started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 29 Comments
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I never gave up on Hicks and kept him near the top of my prospect list after the 2011 season. His defense alone makes him a starter. He looks to be a Hunter-Span hybrid. And that is damn good.
    1. clutterheart's Avatar
      clutterheart -
      2011 Hicks went to Arizona in the fall league and really played well. Lots of people wrote that off as "everyone hits well in Arizona"
      But since then he has been playing at a high level. Something seemed to have clicked for him there.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      Hicks has always been a prospect that people overrated when he was on a hot streak and then almost immediately underrated when he went on a cold streak. I was always frustrated to people's opinions swing so wildly in the span of a couple of months and never really understood. It should be worth mentioning that a couple of cold streaks coincided with a few minor injuries that he suffered.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I think it is funny that people feel being the 45th ranked prospect in all of the minors is some giant fall from grace. He will climb back up, agreed.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      I think it is funny that people feel being the 45th ranked prospect in all of the minors is some giant fall from grace.
      What is curious to me is what motivated BA to drop him from 19th to 45th AFTER his solid season at Beloit. Could be that there was a big influx of talent that pushed him down the list. I don't know. If someone has the pre-2011 Baseball America Handbook that has his write-up, please let me know the reasoning.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      I think it is funny that people feel being the 45th ranked prospect in all of the minors is some giant fall from grace.
      What is curious to me is what motivated BA to drop him from 19th to 45th AFTER his solid season at Beloit. Could be that there was a big influx of talent that pushed him down the list. I don't know. If someone has the pre-2011 Baseball America Handbook that has his write-up, please let me know the reasoning.
      Didn't he have absolutely atrocious splits against lefties that year? That'd be my guess for the drop in the rankings.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Parker - they dropped him because he was repeating A ball and wasn't tearing it up. Then when he struggled in A+, they dropped him altogether.

      I liked your discussion about how his new swing was part of the process of shortening his long swing. Nice to remember that changes like that don't happen over night.

      Hicks was a fun prospect to follow this year and should be a big part of the Twins long term plans.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by gunnarthor View Post
      I liked your discussion about how his new swing was part of the process of shortening his long swing. Nice to remember that changes like that don't happen over night.
      John and I had a conversation about this awhile ago and I think it has real merit.

      Twins' hitters seem to drop off the radar for a few years, often around high A or maybe even AA. Parmelee, Plouffe, and to an extent, Hicks. Then, as they approach the higher minors (AA, AAA), they seem to burst back on the scene with a vengeance. It makes me wonder what the Twins are doing in the low minors that "stalls" hitter development. Are they reworking players' swings and writing off a season or two while that player adjusts?

      I'm not against whatever they're doing because they've been churning out pretty good hitters for awhile now (unfortunately, the exact opposite can be said of the pitching) but I find the trend interesting to mull over.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Are they reworking players' swings and writing off a season or two while that player adjusts?
      Part of a conversation I had with Rob Antony, and to paraphrase, was that the Twins focus more on the process than the outcomes during the low-to-mid levels. So that in the case of Hicks, they are looking for those types of things like shortening his swing or being more aggressive with two-strikes, for example, rather than the actual numbers.

      Parker - they dropped him because he was repeating A ball and wasn't tearing it up. Then when he struggled in A+, they dropped him altogether.
      I'm not sure it was just repeating - after all, he was just 20 and younger than league average. But that could be part of the reason. Tearing it up as in the power numbers? Because otherwise, he put up a hell of a season, finishing 12th in OBP in the Midwest League.

      Didn't he have absolutely atrocious splits against lefties that year? That'd be my guess for the drop in the rankings.
      Yes, I recall there was one point where the discussion was if Hicks should give up being a switch hitter.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Oh, and as to why Hicks is in Venezuela this year, Terry Ryan said this back in August:

      "One of the things we like about winter ball in Latin American versus the Arizona Fall League is the culture," Ryan said. "You've got to go down there and produce or they send you right back. I like that. That's a good thing. There's an urgency about winter ball down there versus the Fall League, which is a developmental league."Hicks has been through that already; now he can go down to Latin America and he's got to put up or they'll send him back home."
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Another great visual breakdown Parker. Your fact-based mechanical diagnosis is a terrific counterweight to the many opinion based posts on this site.
    1. LimestoneBaggy's Avatar
      LimestoneBaggy -
      The criticism on Hicks’s approach is that he could be too passive at times. Hicks boasts a high strikeout rate and a significant portion of those (39%) in 2011 were of the caught-looking variety, an indication that he was not aggressive enough with two strikes on him. Of course, the other side of the coin is that it has led to a 14% career minor league walk rate – a solid pillar supporting his .379 on-base percentage. While walks are en vogue with OBP-ers, there are those in the system who would like to see him use his six-foot-two athletic frame to transfer some power into the ball.
      Parker, Thanks for the article. I have a question about hitter development in relation to the above. Although player development factors by individual, I've always wondered why the overly passive hitter isn't viewed as a development bonus in contrast to the strikeout prone.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      I think the big reasons that Hicks was falling in the lists after 2010 and 2011 was that he was showing below average power with a low BA and progressing slowly. 17 HR's during 3 A ball seasons is rather lackluster. This is not unusual for toolsy

      I'll be honest that he dropped on my lists (still kept him relatively high) and probably on everyones. I consider him a different prospect than what he was in 2008 (obviously). Then he was that high upside/high risk player that could have any outcome from AAAA 4th OF'er to superstar. Now his floor looks like it will be a below average regular while his upside is only an above average player that makes an AS game or two.

      If I was trying to project an optimistic slash line for him it would be something like this .260/.350/.410/.760. Sure he could hit .280 but I think he K's too much. Perhaps he is able to add some power and approach a .200 isoP but I would be surprised if he consistently had a .800+ OPS. However with plus D he can be pretty valuable with a .760 OPS.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      I'm like Shane, I think Hicks only fell to #3 on my prospect list at the beginning of this year (He was #1 the 2 years prior). He's a guy where when you see him amongst all his teammates, you'd have a really hard time saying someone else looked more athletic. Then there's his CF defense, which you can't dismiss (Dirty Little Secret: He covers even more ground in CF than Ben Revere can). What I saw in his hitting numbers as he "struggled" was a guy who would put it all together if he just swung the bat more often, which I think he did this year. Also not mentioned, was the increased havoc he brought to the basepaths this year. He had 60 SB in his first 4 seasons combined, swiping them at a 65% success rate. This year he swiped 32, at a 74% success rate. Best thing development-wise this year was seeing his drastic Lefty-Righty splits disappear completely, and he was actually better from the left side than right (.282 from left, .277 from right), though he still shows more power when batting righty.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      I think it is funny that people feel being the 45th ranked prospect in all of the minors is some giant fall from grace.
      What is curious to me is what motivated BA to drop him from 19th to 45th AFTER his solid season at Beloit. Could be that there was a big influx of talent that pushed him down the list. I don't know. If someone has the pre-2011 Baseball America Handbook that has his write-up, please let me know the reasoning.
      I didn't see him at all on the BA top 100 list dated 21 Feb '12. On the BA top 100 list dated 23 Feb 2011 he was 45th (as I'm sure you knew), but I can't get the write-up as to why he dropped from 19 in 2010 to 45 in 2011. Maybe cause 1st round draft picks that aren't developing well enough for the owning organization to promote them earlier is part of it. I mean, he had already spent a year in Beloit...and he had to spend another year there? Yes he did well, but perhaps BA wonders why the organization themselves didn't feel he was worthy of a promotion to A+ or AA during the 2010 season?
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      As for reasons Hicks repeated low-A at Beloit: He didn't start playing there in 2009 until halfway through the season (67 games total), was in Florida for Extended Spring Training. I chalk it up to wanting to give him a full year on the circuit in 2010.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein View Post
      As for reasons Hicks repeated low-A at Beloit: He didn't start playing there in 2009 until halfway through the season (67 games total), was in Florida for Extended Spring Training. I chalk it up to wanting to give him a full year on the circuit in 2010.
      I'm just trying to give possible reasons why...it's all speculation since I don't have the write-up. It could just be that every year there are new prospects popping up and he just slipped down. One could also speculate he was too high to begin with at 19.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Good to see Hicks produce this season. Got to try to dig some of the shots of him I took during last ST but he seemed like a man with a mission. Much focused. The SH argument has always been a valid argument. I think that he can be a Granderson type player if he gets his hitting going for that one side.

      That said, he is still young. He just turned 23 a few days ago.,
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      [QUOTE=Brock Beauchamp;58940]
      Quote Originally Posted by gunnarthor View Post

      I'm not against whatever they're doing because they've been churning out pretty good hitters for awhile now (unfortunately, the exact opposite can be said of the pitching) but I find the trend interesting to mull over.
      Refining pitching has to be a hard job. Batters can make a mistake on two pitches and still have another chance. Pitchers make a mistake and get to face another batter with someone on base. To throw something the hitters can't immediately recognize within a few inches of a spot is difficult to do. To throw it with trajectory and spin so that when the hitter does make contact it does not go far or fast is also hard. To throw a couple different pitches that look the same starting out would also be difficult. To throw it fast enough to decrease the time the hitter has to react is a talent very few have. To refine someone who has success against lesser talent would be another component to add. Correcting whatever is the difference on a pitcher between success and failure is probably different for each pitcher.
    1. drjim's Avatar
      drjim -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein View Post
      I'm like Shane, I think Hicks only fell to #3 on my prospect list at the beginning of this year (He was #1 the 2 years prior). He's a guy where when you see him amongst all his teammates, you'd have a really hard time saying someone else looked more athletic. Then there's his CF defense, which you can't dismiss (Dirty Little Secret: He covers even more ground in CF than Ben Revere can). What I saw in his hitting numbers as he "struggled" was a guy who would put it all together if he just swung the bat more often, which I think he did this year. Also not mentioned, was the increased havoc he brought to the basepaths this year. He had 60 SB in his first 4 seasons combined, swiping them at a 65% success rate. This year he swiped 32, at a 74% success rate. Best thing development-wise this year was seeing his drastic Lefty-Righty splits disappear completely, and he was actually better from the left side than right (.282 from left, .277 from right), though he still shows more power when batting righty.
      I would still put him at #3 behind Sano/Buxton. Everything I have read is elite CF defense and plus arm. This, combined with the .760 OPS kab mentioned is a really good player.
©2014 TwinsCentric, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Interested in advertising with Twins Daily? Click here.