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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. Otwins's Avatar
      Otwins -
      Here is what you willl hear about Hicks when he is sent down- He needs triple A AB's - we have three young centerfielders and we need Hicks to play everday - He needs to work on his __________ so we sent him to triple A. He will be the centerfielder an hour after the full year of service date passes. That is usually around June 1st. No way out of spring training.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      I would like to see Joe Benson, who is just starting to jog now after his most-recent knee surgery, have a strong spring and win the starting CF job out of camp. If so, he may get a month or two to see what he can do. That way, Hicks can continue to show his all-around game. And yes, I fully believe in waiting to bring up a top talent prospect until you know you have him for an extra full season. That's just smart.
    1. greengoblinrulz's Avatar
      greengoblinrulz -
      Quote Originally Posted by Otwins View Post
      Here is what you willl hear about Hicks when he is sent down- He needs triple A AB's - we have three young centerfielders and we need Hicks to play everday - He needs to work on his __________ so we sent him to triple A. He will be the centerfielder an hour after the full year of service date passes. That is usually around June 1st. No way out of spring training.
      Actually the 'full year of service time' is about 2 wks into a year. Then MN will have him for 2 wks short of 7yrs before he'd have FA rights instead of 6yrs.
      What you may be thinking of is arbitration rights...which is about mid June.
      But we all fear you are correct
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Why should I buy a ticket if things don't change? Twins management has to realize that there's not much reason to be interested in this team if we get another year of the same old crap as the last two years. With promising new faces like Hicks, at least we get to cheer for the future.

      Bring up the kids, give them a taste of the bigs. Let them see the giant new stadium and hear the enormous volume of thousands of people. Will they be intimidated? Fine, get the novelty out of the way. Screw all the clever contract moves. This team sucks, and everybody knows it. Make some big changes, or lose your fan base.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      I would like to see Joe Benson, who is just starting to jog now after his most-recent knee surgery, have a strong spring and win the starting CF job out of camp. If so, he may get a month or two to see what he can do. That way, Hicks can continue to show his all-around game. And yes, I fully believe in waiting to bring up a top talent prospect until you know you have him for an extra full season. That's just smart.
      IMO, Joe Benson needs more than a good spring to earn a chance at starting in the majors. He looked horrible during his first MLB stint and couldn't hit anywhere last year even when healthy. There were serious question marks about his plate approach even before 2012, so I personally don't think he should even be in the conversation at this point. Maybe after a few good months in Rochester.

      For me, the choices come down to Mastroianni, Hicks or outside stopgap. Choosing Mastro would require them to find another fourth OF who can play center. If the org truly believes it will be more beneficial for Hicks' development to get a few months in Triple-A before tasting the majors, so be it, but I'd hope that's the only factor in their evaluation. I don't believe the contract stuff should have much bearing.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      They might believe it but I don't.

      Revere was clearly ML ready when he was called up. Parmelee was 24 and had to go back to AAA before getting what looks like a more permanent call-up, and we know how things went with Dozier, where they predicted his success based on AA numbers. Parmelee and Revere both showed success at AAA.

      If anything the Gomez comparison should be cause for hesitation. Hicks may be ready, but he should spend at least some time in AAA to make sure.
    1. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      I think Hicks needs to start the season in AAA for financial reasons regardless. I think what Seth was saying is he hopes Benson shows he can be that stop gap CF instead of going outside the organization.

      Now in spring training if Hicks is so much better than everyone else playing then yes he needs to start the season as the CF but not if he is tied for the job because of the financial implications noted above.
    1. raindog's Avatar
      raindog -
      Waiting a few weeks to get an extra year of service time is absolutely a good idea. And it's not like he couldn't use some time at AAA.

      As for Benson, it's been said he also played through some injuries last year, accounting for some of his struggles. Maybe Seth knows a little more about that.

      EDIT: As much as I like Benson, I just came across this piece of trash:
      http://www.fannation.com/truth_and_r...2_a7&eref=sihp
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      I would like to see Joe Benson, who is just starting to jog now after his most-recent knee surgery, have a strong spring and win the starting CF job out of camp. If so, he may get a month or two to see what he can do. That way, Hicks can continue to show his all-around game. And yes, I fully believe in waiting to bring up a top talent prospect until you know you have him for an extra full season. That's just smart.
      IMO, Joe Benson needs more than a good spring to earn a chance at starting in the majors. He looked horrible during his first MLB stint and couldn't hit anywhere last year even when healthy. There were serious question marks about his plate approach even before 2012, so I personally don't think he should even be in the conversation at this point. Maybe after a few good months in Rochester.

      For me, the choices come down to Mastroianni, Hicks or outside stopgap. Choosing Mastro would require them to find another fourth OF who can play center. If the org truly believes it will be more beneficial for Hicks' development to get a few months in Triple-A before tasting the majors, so be it, but I'd hope that's the only factor in their evaluation. I don't believe the contract stuff should have much bearing.
      In defense of Benson, I did hear that there were other, unpublicized injuries that took their toll on him, in addition to the injuries that were known to Twins fans. I wonder if, at any point in the season, he was even close to 100% healthy? Either way, though, it was a totally lost season, and he certainly has a chip on his shoulder going into 2013.

      As for the service time argument, yes I do think it matters in this situtation. I'm accepting that there is little chance that the Twins are going to compete for the playoffs in 2013. If you believe that Hicks is the best CF option for this team (which I do) to open the season, then, yes, if this team was playoff contender, perhaps it makes the most sense to sacrifice that extra year of team control and put the best player on the field the full season. With this Twins club, however, the focus clearly is on the future. Sacrificing a few weeks, or 2 months, or whatever it is, of Hicks in CF doesn't damage the present very much, and if we believe that Hicks is the future CF for the Twins, having an entire extra year of team control makes Hicks more valuable, not just to the Twins, but to other teams in the future, should a guy like Byron Buxton make Hicks a tradeable commodity at some point.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I am mot sure why worrying about future arbitration matters. By the time he is eligible, they will have almost all players making the minimum. At some point, they do need to sell tickets somehow. But I think Seth and others are correct in assuming it is about money for the Twins
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      I don't think the Twins will send him down to AAA for arb. reasons if he blows them out of the water in ST. I think he's going to get a lot of chances to impress the coaches and if he does, I bet he's with the club at the start of the season.
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      I need to side with Seth on this one, ie, I am on record from several months ago stating that Joe Benson will have a break out season in 2013. Thus, I believe he can and will be the starting centerfielder on opening day. It is my understanding that he went in for knee surgery expecting a minor cleanout. When in his knee, the surgeons learned there was a lot of damage and did a much more serious procedure.

      We don't know how long that injury had been affecting his play. Yes, he got off to a more than slow start at Rochester which weighed on his psyche. But the effect of his injuries (hamate bone and knee) certainly was a major reason his entire season was a disaster.

      With that said, I believe the Twins believe he is a legimate candidate to be in center on opening day. He has the skills that in many ways are equal to Hicks. Unlike some, I don't believe his play with the Twins in September, 2011 was a disaster. I saw a tremendously skilled young man getting his first glimpse of the 'show.' I remember the game he almost hit for the cycle as a glimpse of what could come. Does he have some things he needs to work on, certainly. But when it happens, he could become a superstar!
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      I'm really high on Hicks as well and it's nice to see that the org thinks he's good enough to play already. He could develop into the best leadoff hitter in the game.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      I don't know if the clock will have a huge impact on Hicks. He might not be ready, he might struggle and get sent down, but I don't think they'll worry too much about service time.

      In any event, I'm excited for him. Here's hoping.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      I am mot sure why worrying about future arbitration matters. By the time he is eligible, they will have almost all players making the minimum. At some point, they do need to sell tickets somehow. But I think Seth and others are correct in assuming it is about money for the Twins
      It has nothing to do with money, in my opinion... It has to do with this... The Twins (most likely) aren't going to compete for a playoff spot in 2013 no matter who they bring in or call up... They've got prospects now that should potentially make them competitive for awhile starting in 2014 or 2015. If Hicks starts the season with the Twins (and stays up for good), he'll be here through 2018. If they have him spend a month in Rochester to start the season and then call him up (and he stays up for good), he'll be here through the 2019 season. Has nothing to do with money. Has everything to do with keeping what may become a quality player for an extra season in his prime when the Twins should be competing.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I think he'll get a chance right away. I think you're right about it being his job to lose. Benson or Mastro could beat him out. But I expect him to win the job out of Spring Training. He won't make the team if he doesn't win the starting job. But I expect him to win the starting job.

      Here is a complete list of top position player prospects they have promoted directly from AA:

      Mauer
      Revere
      Benson
      Parmelee
      Dozier

      Not all of those guys stayed up. But the guys who were drafted in the first round stayed up. Also note: Hicks was the highest drafted position player since Mauer (16th overall). From the time he was drafted until the time they signed Sano, he was by far the best position player in the system. I think it's fair to say the really want him to win the job out of spring training.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by gunnarthor View Post
      I don't know if the clock will have a huge impact on Hicks. He might not be ready, he might struggle and get sent down, but I don't think they'll worry too much about service time.

      In any event, I'm excited for him. Here's hoping.
      With the Twins, I don't think the free agency or arbitration 'clocks' will matter. IF they think he's ready, they'll have him start the season with them. There is plenty of precedence for that. Joe Mauer was on the opening day roster in 2004. Last year, Parmelee and Hendriks were Opening Day roster guys.

      the only scary thing about opening up this kind of competition for spring training is that typically spring training stats mean absolutely nothing.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I doubt they are going to worry about his arbitration clock.

      Benson still could end up being a better play, but after last year's mess, he needs to right the ship in AAA.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I don't think ST is going to matter in terms of statistical performance unless there is some wild difference between one and the other two. If Hicks looks like he can handle the role, I think it will be his job. From many Twins fans writing him off before 2012 to leading off and playing CF in 2013? I would love that on principle!
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      If he performs up to expectations then they'll look to extend him in a couple of years anyway. If he can play now, he should play.
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