Congratulations, Mr. Hicks. You are going where few Minnesota Twins minor leaguers have gone before: Straight to the Opening Day starting lineup.
Since the opening of the Metrodome in 1982, there have been just seven players in the Minnesota starting lineup to jump to from the minors to the Opening Day lineup: Jim Eisenreich, Chuck Knoblauch, Marty Cordova, Chad Allen, Cristian Guzman, Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
While all of those aforementioned players produced strong numbers in the minor leagues, they faced increasingly challenging competition in the first season as the dossier on their strengths and weaknesses grew. Some -- like Knoblauch, Cordova and Mauer -- adjusted well. Others did not.
This is a story from a free ebook that TwinsDaily is publishing on Opening Day that previews the Minnesota Twins 2013 season. To get your free copy, just make sure you follow @TwinsDaily on Twitter or Like our Facebook page.
Why is it that players can seem so destined for greatness based on their minor league track records, struggle once promoted to the ultimate level?
For starters, there is a lack of knowledge in the minor leagues which favors the hitters. Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway explained to the Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson exactly how difficult it is to create a strategy for minor league hitters.
“Going into a game in the minors, you don’t know the hitters,” said the Red Sox catcher. “You’re kind of blind. In the big leagues, you have a game plan of how you want to go about it.”
In the minors there are no Pitchf/x graphs or extensive collection of video to determine how to approach a particular hitter. There are no advanced scouts marking down every observation on how to best exploit a hitter’s weaknesses for the upcoming series.
Players who have quality approach at the plate often see a fleeting rush of success at the major league level prior to reports circulating among the clubs. Teams will attack the strike zone with strikes. They will fire fastballs in fastball counts. Only once it becomes clear that a young player proves he is very capable of handling that assortment do pitchers start to pick around the plate and breaking off more benders when a fastball is expected.
Then it is up to the hitter to make the adjustment.
In many ways, what will be awaiting Hicks is the same process that both Chris Parmelee and Brian Dozier faced in 2012.
When Parmelee came up in September 2011, he was punishing the ball all over the field. He saw few off-speed offerings in fastball counts. Teams rarely challenged him up-and-away. This performance continued into spring training but opponents began to cultivate a different game plan during the regular season and he scuffled more, only to be sent back to Rochester for additional tooling.
Similarly, Dozier had some immediate success by driving plenty of fastballs to left field. That is, until teams picked up on his pull-happy tendency and moved their target to the outer-half of the zone. The same hitter who had once drew walks in 10% of his minor league plate appearances, was only able to finesse a free pass in 5% of his MLB plate appearances. Unable to adjust, Dozier’s numbers continued southward and in August, Dozier was headed eastward to Rochester.
Hicks’ gaudy minor league walk rate does not necessarily mean that he is a strike zone savant or stingy with swinging at breaking balls in the dirt. Hitters that move up levels likely won’t see a significant amount of breaking balls – a product of a lack of advanced scouting. Sure, there is always the two-strike hook, but those should be anticipated at any level. As Hicks gets challenged more as the 2013 season progresses, we will see how disciplined he actually is. He is already prone to strike out (20% of his minor league plate appearances), so it is possible that he is going to K more frequently.
Like all players before him, Hicks will need to be able to adapt to his opposition – which is easier said than done.
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