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  • Hicks Positioned to Take the Leap

    After the Twins parted with franchise mainstay Torii Hunter back in 2007, they needed to make a decision about who would take his place in the middle of the outfield. Finding a veteran placeholder was an option, but instead they ultimately decided to go straight to Hunter's heir apparent: a raw but tremendously athletic kid acquired in the Johan Santana trade.

    Carlos Gomez was clearly rough around the edges when he assumed the important roles of center fielder and leadoff hitter in 2008. At the time, he had played only 94 games above Double-A, including a brief stint in Triple-A and an overmatched MLB debut.

    Yet, the Twins were seemingly eager to get an early look at their future, and to give fans a glimpse as well. Gomez was the kind of special talent that could captivate folks at the ballpark and soften the blow of losing a player as popular as Hunter. He was exciting.

    Gomez never realized his potential in Minnesota, but midway through that '08 campaign, it was another young player who came up and made a big rookie splash. Denard Span would supplant Gomez as leadoff hitter by the end of the year, and as full-time center fielder a year later. Span held those designations up until a couple weeks ago when the Twins traded him for prospect Alex Meyer.

    Span's apparent predecessor, Ben Revere, was surprisingly moved the next week, putting the Twins in a similar position to 2008. Center field is now wide open, and the club has a choice of either filling it with a stopgap (Darin Mastroianni? Free agent?) or transitioning directly to the future with Aaron Hicks.

    Hicks hasn't played above the Double-A level, where had a breakout campaign in 2012, but this organization has shown a willingness to push its preferred prospects right into the majors with little or no seasoning in Triple-A if there's an opening. We've seen it recently with the likes of Ben Revere, Chris Parmelee and Brian Dozier.

    Hicks is a year older than Gomez was when he took the reigns in center, and has a more well rounded skill set. Whereas Gomez had shown poor plate discipline throughout the minors, Hicks has consistently excelled in that department with a career .379 on-base percentage, including .384 last year in his first turn at Double-A.

    Renowned for his above-average range and outstanding throwing arm, Hicks is ready to handle center field defensively in the majors. Whether the Twins will be willing to give him a chance depends on where they feel his offensive game is at, but if they're looking for someone that they can plug into the top of the lineup with Span and Revere gone, Hicks' on-base skills alone seem worthy of a gamble. Certainly his overall offensive game has to be viewed as more polished than Gomez's when he was given the nod.

    This organization is obviously very high on Hicks. Ryan wouldn't have been willing to deal both Span and Revere if that weren't the case. Do they believe Hicks is ready now? The more I read, and the more I hear, the more I believe they do. Barring a meltdown in spring training, I think the former first-round pick is the front-runner for the center field job.

    And fans should be very excited about that indeed.
    This article was originally published in blog: Hicks Positioned to Take the Leap started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 84 Comments
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      One thing to remember. The Twins are not merely missing a CF. They are missing a leadoff hitter. Hicks is the only one of the three to properly be called a potential quality leadoff hitter.
    1. Old Twins Cap's Avatar
      Old Twins Cap -
      You should realize that something is wrong with the display on this blog. I cannot access the comments section on the articles on the main page.

      Anyway, heads up people. Your blog is not functioning properly.
    1. Oden's Avatar
      Oden -
      I have my doubts that Hicks is ready for the majors. He obviously had a nice age 22 season in a full year at AA. He may well have “turned a corner”, but where exactly did he improve over the previous season in high-A?

      2011 242/354/366/720 5 HR
      2012 385/382/459/841 13 HR

      The difference is more power, right? Actually, he only had 5 more extra base hits in 2012 than 2011 and that was with 35 more PA. And his walk and K rates were both marginally down last year. The biggest improvement was actually with his BABIP – from .308 in 2011 to .346 in 2012. He put the ball in play more often last year. He’s never been a huge strikeout guy, but his rate of 20.6% over the last 2 years is not great.

      It doesn’t mean he can’t improve the K rate or succeed in the majors in general, but odds are going to be against him if he strikes out more than that and puts the ball in play less often. I think less contact in his first season is likely at age 23, and if he puts fewer balls in play, he could be looking at a line more similar to 2011 than 2012.

      So, is a line of 255/355/370/725 with stellar D in CF realistic? It would certainly be more than adequate for a league minimum salary at age 23 and it actually wouldn’t be that far behind Span’s 2012 season numbers.

      I’d much rather see him try to stick in MN rather than go to triple-A. AAA is not a prospect league anymore. It’s for career minor leaguers and washed up veterans and serves as a holding place for marginal prospects that the big club hasn’t yet made their mind on. I’d rather see Hicks go back to AA to start the season if they don’t bring him along out of spring training. At any rate, I’m excited to see what Hicks can do in a big league uniform, whether it happens now or in the near future.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alex View Post
      Regardless of whether or not Dozier was a top prospect (and I agree that's a big difference), he hit very well at AA and it sounded like they thought he was ready from a scouting perspective. He was older at the time, and one would have thought that would have allowed him to handle it, maturity wise.
      You neglect to mention that Dozier wasn't promoted directly from Double-A to the majors. He spent some time in Rochester at the outset of last year, and was called up pretty quickly despite underwhelming numbers. Personally, I just don't think Dozier is a major-league talent; I don't know that his struggles have anything to do with the way he was handled.

      Quote Originally Posted by Alex View Post
      You mentioned that Hicks was more ready defensively, but I'm curious what is it that makes you so confident he's ML ready? Is it the single season in AA, his change in mechanics, the top prospect status he once had where he now gained ground again, or something else you've heard? Would you promote Arcia as well, too?
      I'm going off various scouting reports and Terry Ryan himself, who said he felt any of the three (Mastro/Hicks/Benson) are ready to play in the majors defensively. Hicks has great speed and a tremendous arm, and from what I've heard his instincts are solid.

      I would not promote Arcia. He's played less than 70 games in Double-A, he's still 21 and there's no clear opening for him. Makes more sense to plan his arrival around Morneau's departure. But if you get Hicks up at the start of the season, by the time Arcia joins the roster hopefully Hicks has adjusted a bit and you're not dealing with two fresh rookies learning the ropes in the outfield simultaneously.
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