• 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. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Seth, control is about money. In your scenario, they could sign him to a deal to keep him. So your clock argument is all about money.
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      Quote Originally Posted by raindog View Post
      EDIT: As much as I like Benson, I just came across this piece of trash:
      Twins sitting on next Mike Trout? - MLB - Baseball - Rumors - FanNation
      Heh, I saw that, too. Good for a chuckle. I actually have hopes Benson turns into a really good player again, but that comparison is just a wee bit over the top.

      My personal preference with no other factors to consider would be Hicks as the starter. I think Seth has the right idea, though. Hope that Benson has regained his form in order to man the position until Hicks' service clock is in order, and then call him up. Why would anyone not want Benson to be good enough to start? More trade pieces for the Twins, especially since he's apparently the next Mike Trout.
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      I'd prefer to see Hicks start in AAA. The Twins are very conservative with promotions anyway, so I don't think they would start him in the Majors unless he really was ready, but... the service time issue is definitely significant, and a little extra caution wouldn't hurt either. Names like Travis Snider and Cameron Maybin come to mind, who first got called up at a young age and have been very inconsistent.

      Truly elite talents like Trout and Harper are a different story, but Hicks isn't that kind of player.
    1. OldManWinter's Avatar
      OldManWinter -
      It says 23 comments, but only one by otwin is here?????
    1. righty8383's Avatar
      righty8383 -
      I'm having that problem too. If you go to the forum and find the thread for this article, all the comments will be shown.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      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.
      But it's also about putting an appealing product on the field. Even if the Twins aren't going all-out to win in 2013, they need to give the fans something to come out to the ballpark for. Watching Hicks develop on the big-league stage would be fun perk and would help mitigate the losses of a couple fan favorites. Of course, this ranks behind Hicks' development in importance, so if they truly believe he'll be overwhelmed or set back by the MLB challenge, go ahead and start him in Triple-A.

      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      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.
      Of course, as twinsnorth notes, if Hicks pans out the Twins can (and probably will) give him a contract extension that buys out a couple years of a free agency. So I really don't think it should be a major factor. They have enough money now that potential contract situations six years down the line shouldn't affect their present decision-making.

      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      the only scary thing about opening up this kind of competition for spring training is that typically spring training stats mean absolutely nothing.
      Agreed. They need to enter ST with a plan in place that will only be altered by drastic changes during spring (injury or completely abysmal performances). I hate the idea of an open comp in Ft. Myers where the best performer in 80 AB gets the job.
    1. OldManWinter's Avatar
      OldManWinter -
      Now all the comments
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      The last three major supposed ST battles we had, the winner (by stats at least) didn't get the job.

      Span losing to Gomez
      Harris losing to Punto
      Slowey posting the best ERA of all 6 SPs.

      I have a hard time believing we actually have ST battles
    1. James's Avatar
      James -
      I really don't know how I personally feel about this one. If he gets the job out of ST, great. It'll be fun to watch him. If they decide to wait a few weeks so they get an extra arb year out him, I understand that too. If the team legitimately feels he needs some AAA time, and he doesn't get called up until June... I understand that one too. There are many good arguments for taking any of those paths.

      I would say that I would be most happy with him starting out of ST, or calling him up to get the extra year. This is all based on the assumption that he has a good spring and is ready for the job.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      Mastroianni is a nice bench player but I believe he'll be overexposed if pressed into full-time duty.

      Benson, despite the fact that he had a cup of coffee in 2011, should be behind Hicks on the depth chart.

      IMO, either the Twins should just roll out with Hicks, or find a platoon partner for Mastroianni.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Why would they need another outfielder if they are rebuilding?
    1. mnfanforlife's Avatar
      mnfanforlife -
      I think Ryan knows he has a bunch of guys that can be good top-of-the-order hitters in Nate Roberts, Hicks, Buxton, Kepler etc. and he got some great returns for Span and Revere. All of the OF's left in MIN's organization should be capable to fill the roles left open by Revere and Span, some sooner than others.
    1. mnfanforlife's Avatar
      mnfanforlife -
      Roberts, Hicks, Arcia, Buxton, Kepler, Bigley, Walker. Two of these guys might play in Minnesota next year. There is still a ton of OF depth in this organization.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      [QUOTE=Nick Nelson;69634]
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      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.
      Agree with everything but this last part. Even if the Twins add a respectable starter from the dwindling pool of free agents, they're just not very likely to contend in 2013. Two months of a kid who hasn't played above AA isn't worth giving up a year of team control of a player in his prime on a potential contender.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      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.
      couldnt have said it better myself.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      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.
      Amen--Couldnt have said it better.
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      It just seems so out of character for Gardy/Ryan to hand a starting position, and leadoff spot in the lineup, to a young top prospect. Do we have a recent example? It seems like all young Twins prospects languish on the many Rochester-Minneapolis round trips before becoming a regular in the lineup.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsnorth49 View Post
      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.
      Let's set aside the fact that Hicks had a good, but not great, year at New Britain, and is hardly a solid bet to be a plus player on Opening Day. If you bring him up you're still just trading two months of Aaron Hicks the prospect for a year of Aaron Hicks the seasoned major leaguer in his prime, and hopefully playing for a contender instead of a rebuilder.

      If this were the Yankees, then yes, you could just buy that year back with an extension without another thought. But it's the Twins, and if you extend him you'll be paying a premium to do so and taking money from a finite pool. The loss of that money could very likely result in the loss of a veteran or a budget issue that prevents a free agent signing.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      I'm surprised how many fans have inherited this mindset that keeping a non-elite prospect in the minors for a couple months to delay his free agency is a huge deal. Are we in Tampa Bay? Gotta believe a lot of people singing that tune will feel differently if we're in May and Hicks is doing his usual high-OBP thing at Rochester while Mastroianni struggles and the Twins lack a competent leadoff option.

      Even in a rebuilding year, you still try to win games. Hicks might be a little raw yet, but the way he flourished through the extremely difficult A-to-AA transition suggests to me that he's up for the challenge. If he struggles you can always send him down and preserve the arb clock.

      Quote Originally Posted by LaBombo View Post
      Let's set aside the fact that Hicks had a good, but not great, year at New Britain
      He had a top-5 OPS in the Eastern League as one of the younger players, and he played excellent defense in center field. I think your standard for greatness must be pretty high.

      Quote Originally Posted by JeffB View Post
      It just seems so out of character for Gardy/Ryan to hand a starting position, and leadoff spot in the lineup, to a young top prospect. Do we have a recent example?
      Well, Gomez. Revere. Going back further, Hunter was called up at a young age with little seasoning in the high minors. You can call the Twins conserative with promotions, but when it comes to toolsy outfielders that has hardly been the case.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      But it's also about putting an appealing product on the field. Even if the Twins aren't going all-out to win in 2013, they need to give the fans something to come out to the ballpark for. Watching Hicks develop on the big-league stage would be fun perk and would help mitigate the losses of a couple fan favorites. Of course, this ranks behind Hicks' development in importance, so if they truly believe he'll be overwhelmed or set back by the MLB challenge, go ahead and start him in Triple-A.
      While plenty of Twins Daily people might be excited to see Hicks on Opening Day, he's hardly the widely known phenom, either in terms of talent or, more importantly in this case, reputation, that Joe Mauer was when he arrived in the majors. Unless Hicks tears it up from the start, his presence may backfire with respect to drawing casual fans.

      Many of them have grown increasingly cynical about the Twins not fielding a competitive team since the first year in Target Field. Some kid they don't know from the minors batting .220 on May 1 may be seen incorrectly as another sign of' penny pinching by the Pohlads. And even if Hicks hits about what you might expect, but the team struggles (shocka!), the rubes will at least partly blame the kid batting only .250, never mind the walks.
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