• Patience Warranted With Struggling Youngsters

    For all the buzz he built up during spring training, it didn’t take long for Aaron Hicks to sour the widespread enthusiasm surrounding him. We’re barely over a week into the season and already we’re seeing calls for the rookie center fielder to be shipped to the minors, or at least the bottom of the lineup.

    In fairness, Hicks has done his part. Through eight games, he has been flat-out overmatched, with two hits, two walks and 13 strikeouts in 32 plate appearances. He torched opposing pitchers during exhibition play, but ever since the games started mattering and hurlers stepped it up, Hicks has looked utterly confounded by big-league stuff.

    With his reputation for seeing lots of pitches and taking good at-bats in the minors (a trait that was certainly on display in spring training) the Twins had hoped that Hicks would set a strong example with his approach in the lead-off spot. Instead, he has frequently appeared to have no plan whatsoever at the plate, slumping back to the dugout dejectedly after being blown away by vicious heaters and benders the likes of which he’s never seen before.

    He’s clearly overwhelmed, which may seem like a good enough reason to get him to Triple-A so he can regain some confidence and straighten himself out. If things haven’t changed by the time we get into May, it will be a perfectly justifiable decision, carrying the added benefit of delaying his service clock and buying an extra year of team control.

    But we simply haven’t reached that point yet. We’re less than 10 games into the season and as bad as Hicks has been over these 32 plate appearances, we’re still talking about 32 plate appearances. If the Twins were going to give him the opportunity to jump from Double-A straight to the majors, they need to at least give him a chance to work through some initial struggles and adjust. At this juncture, the team’s outcomes take a backseat to the player’s development, and while I’m not saying that a trip to Rochester wouldn’t necessarily be the best thing for Hicks, there’s no way to know that yet. He needs time.

    The same goes for other youngsters who have stumbled out of the gates, such as Brian Dozier and Liam Hendriks. The way players get better is through reps and experience, not through being jerked around and demoted based on short stretches of poor performance. The last thing the Twins need to is to repeat their 2012 handling of Chris Parmelee, who shuttled back and forth between the minors and majors, dominating one level and looking flummoxed (in sporadic playing time) at the other. Looking back, did we really learn anything about Parmelee last year?

    The month of April is for evaluation. When May and June roll around, then the talk can begin about taking actions based on a more meaningful set of data. For now, the best approach is the one Ron Gardenhire took on Tuesday night with scuffling Hicks and Dozier: give them a day off to clear their heads, then get them back out there the next night (as I suspect they will be).
    This article was originally published in blog: Patience warranted with struggling youngsters started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 62 Comments
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      Not having played the game at a better level than beer-league softball (and badly at that), I had not run across this analysis/advice. Interesting.
      The lag-loop-lag technique is used by a lot of players, both in tennis and baseball. Good example in tennis - Federer's forehand. Good example in baseball - Manny Ramirez's swing. In both cases, the palm forward (fore) hand never actually moves backwards, and the head of the stick initially lags forward.

      A good test of proper lag is to position yourself sideways to a fence with the bat or racket raised up, head lagged forward, right hand up near your right ear. As you shift your weight away from the fence, your hand must not move backwards (that is what's called a hitch), and the head of the stick will not hit the fence. As you finally bring your hands forward (in a little loop), that movement makes the bat head lag behind, which helps generate an efficient outward snap to the bat. This accomplishes the 'short to, long through' all with one wonderful, magical loop. Pow, the ball goes screaming off into fame and fortune.

      Now here's an important addition: You can do a decent lag-loop-lag swing with your feet planted, but you'll never hit a home run. As Kirby Puckett discovered, shifting your weight into the swing as you do your loop will vastly increase the power of your swing, if you still manage to achieve a tight snap. That's how a spindly little guy like Ted Williams managed to generate such a shocking amount of power. Good rhythm and a nice, tight loop.
    1. ThejacKmp's Avatar
      ThejacKmp -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimbo92107 View Post
      Hicks is doing a couple basic things wrong, both related to getting his bat on the ball. First, he's planting his feet and standing like a statue at home plate. You've got to keep your body in motion and try to time your weight shift so you put weight on your rear foot just as the pitcher puts weight on his front foot.

      Second, he's not following the pitch in right out of the pitcher's hand. If you watch great hitters, clearly they are aligning their hands with the pitcher's delivery, as if they were trying to catch it in a glove rather than hit it. You have to pretend you're going to catch the baseball with your rear hand, then time your lag-loop-lag with the pitcher's rhythm.

      I play tennis. When somebody smacks a 100+ mph serve at you, the only way to get your racket on the ball is to react automatically to your opponent's movements. You take your clues from his alignment and movement, just like an interactive dance. All action sports are like this. You also have to conserve momentum, which is why you don't really do a back swing; instead, you move around the stick and perform a little lag-loop-lag gesture, aligning both hands to the level of the ball. Otherwise, you'll always be late on your swing. You adjust the size of the loop to the speed of the ball. If the ball is coming really fast, you can abbreviate the loop, and the forward lag allows you to bring your hands forward early, squaring up the sweet spot with the incoming ball. That's the secret of hitting fast moving objects. The weight shift provides power, while the adjustable lag-loop-lag compensates for differences in speed and trajectory.
      Though this is all very interesting, perhaps you shouldn't quit your day job.

      Hicks didn't suddenly change his batting habits when he went to the majors. He didn't change his swing or start batting with his helmet on backwards. If he was doing something radically different the Twins would send him down no questions asked, or work to fix it. You can dislike the Twins coaching staff all you want (for good reason sometimes) but they are professionals who do this for a living. Maybe you should call them up and tell them what you saw?

      If you want us to see this you need to get fancy with some GIFs to show us what's different. Telling us you played tennis against 100MPH serves doesn't really convince me.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      This. Cuddyer and Kubel's management was particularly aggravating.
      The Cuddyer demotion was particularly damaging. Kind of a worst-case scenario, since he got hurt in AAA and missed most of the season in which he should have been breaking out.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Jason Barlett also appreciates the opportunity and patience the FO and manager show young players, rather than going with terrible veterans.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimbo92107 View Post
      Hicks is doing a couple basic things wrong, both related to getting his bat on the ball. First, he's planting his feet and standing like a statue at home plate. You've got to keep your body in motion and try to time your weight shift so you put weight on your rear foot just as the pitcher puts weight on his front foot.

      Second, he's not following the pitch in right out of the pitcher's hand. If you watch great hitters, clearly they are aligning their hands with the pitcher's delivery, as if they were trying to catch it in a glove rather than hit it. You have to pretend you're going to catch the baseball with your rear hand, then time your lag-loop-lag with the pitcher's rhythm.
      First, a major obstacle for prospects is to stop excess movement at the plate. The only movement you want, is movement toward the ball. Extra movement causes flaws in the swing. The timing thing is different for everybody. Gary Shefield had huge movement in his bat, but when the pitch was being delivered he always returned to the same cocked position. Parker has some articles with good examples of eliminating movement in swings.

      Second, WTF are you talking about? lag-loop-lag? As a hitter, you hit by taking your hands through the ball. The bat is an extension of your hands. The motion is completely different than swinging a racket. I am having a big problem with your explanation of hitting. You generate power by hip rotation and follow through, I'd guess that tennis isn't that much different. I feel like the fundamentals of a swing are just not the same. In tennis you are moving side to side, generated power comes from leverage. Baseball you are stationary and generated power comes from the hips. The swings attempt to accomplish different things.

      Maybe I am off-base since I don't know a ton about tennis. Just looking at youtube explanations they are too different.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      Second, WTF are you talking about? lag-loop-lag?
      NOW I'm really learning something. Let's you and him fight.

      / I'm not a mod, but: nicely, my brothers.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThejacKmp View Post
      I don't think that this is what the original guy was saying but that stat doesn't endorse the fact that a player is hurt by moving back and forth between AAA and the majors. The player could've gotten three months with a "you're not going anywhere" guarantee and posted the same OPS. No one has come up with proof that shuffling back and forth is bad because we don't have time machines and can't judge which method is worse by looking at both paths. I can make an argument in my head that its bad for continutity's sake and I can also make an argument that its good for a player to get a chance to look at both levels in turn and see the difference.

      Point is, just as the original guy can't prove that it doesn't hurt them, you can't prove that it does.
      More to the point, we now need to spend another season watching Parmelee play to know if he's an MLB regular or not. While shuffling between levels may not have "hurt" Parmelee himself (but it certainly didn't help), it definitely hurt the team's ability to see what they have in the player. Parmelee and Hendriks have dominated AAA at various times. They have nothing left to prove in the minors. All shuffling them up and down does is delay the inevitable, and that is to give them playing time to determine whether they have the chops to be an MLB player.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThejacKmp View Post
      Not to be a naysayer but if you leave a guy in AAA all year you still don't know who he is long-term until he faces major league pitching. You also can have a guy struggle in the majors the entire year and not know that he's washed up. There is no magic way to handle guys: some do better getting brief chances at the majors whenever there's an option, other need that sense of security with "this is my job."
      At the same time, having players basically skip a level (especially when there are big question marks -Hicks this year and Dozier and Parmalee last year), leads to far more question mark, whereas had they spent a significant time in AAA, some of their holes might have been recognized and been in a much better situation to fill.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThejacKmp View Post
      Though this is all very interesting, perhaps you shouldn't quit your day job.

      Hicks didn't suddenly change his batting habits when he went to the majors. He didn't change his swing or start batting with his helmet on backwards. If he was doing something radically different the Twins would send him down no questions asked, or work to fix it. You can dislike the Twins coaching staff all you want (for good reason sometimes) but they are professionals who do this for a living. Maybe you should call them up and tell them what you saw?

      If you want us to see this you need to get fancy with some GIFs to show us what's different. Telling us you played tennis against 100MPH serves doesn't really convince me.
      Manny Ramirez Swing Analysis - YouTube

      In the linked video, note how Ramirez rocks backwards in a very pronounced way in time with the pitcher's front foot landing. Note how his hands follow the pitch up, then down. Note the initial forward lag of the bat head. Note that once his hands move forward, the bat head does not travel back beyond his back foot. Nice, flat loop.

      I predict this Ramirez kid will hit a lot of baseballs very hard.
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      First, a major obstacle for prospects is to stop excess movement at the plate. The only movement you want, is movement toward the ball. Extra movement causes flaws in the swing. The timing thing is different for everybody. Gary Shefield had huge movement in his bat, but when the pitch was being delivered he always returned to the same cocked position. Parker has some articles with good examples of eliminating movement in swings.
      The norm. The coaching norm. It totally discounts some of the best hitters. The Ken Griffey Jr hip shimmy, the Joe Morgan elbow twitch. Mike Trout totally doesn't fit ....... and is why so many teams, including the twins, passed on him, the gold mine. In music... the Louis Amstrong puffed cheek armature......... you just never really know. if it works, leave it alone, may be the best coaching of all.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by h2oface View Post
      The norm. The coaching norm. It totally discounts some of the best hitters. The Ken Griffey Jr hip shimmy, the Joe Morgan elbow twitch. Mike Trout totally doesn't fit ....... and is why so many teams, including the twins, passed on him, the gold mine. In music... the Louis Amstrong puffed cheek armature......... you just never really know. if it works, leave it alone, may be the best coaching of all.
      And if a guy strikes out 20- 25% of the time in AA and over 40% in the bigs?
    1. Rick Niedermann's Avatar
      Rick Niedermann -
      Maybe your right Nick. But I am still running out of patience with Hendriks.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by Rick Niedermann View Post
      Maybe your right Nick. But I am still running out of patience with Hendriks.
      How about now?

      Overall, I understand Hendriks hasn't pitched well, but what I don't get is why people seem to have less patience for him than Dozier, especially as Hendriks is younger. As I said in the other thread, they both have about the same time in the majors and neither has shown anything. The difference is Hendriks doesn't have much, if anything to prove in minors at this point. The Twins really should be seeing if he can figure it out up here whereas Dozier spent very little time in AAA and hasn't really had any success above AA.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      Okay, a guy is labeled as part of the team's future.
      His first job is to get regular time playing a position, not riding a bench.
      Hicks is getting his at-bats and lessons in the majors. He could be doing the same at Rochester. But right now, you can ask, would it be better if we had Benson or Boggs of Mastro playing everyday up here?
      Maybe sending Hicks down will allow him to more slowly work out the quirks he has seen as a leadoff hitter in the majors. Maybe he will just tee off on the influx of AAAA pitchers he faces there. The talent margin between the majors and the minors is big.
      In the minors you are either an up-and-coming prospect who will play regularly in the majors so you can get a nice pension, of the top guys on the minor league roster who end up being the 11th/12th pitcher in the bullpen or the bench reserves.
      If anything, I cry foul at the Twins line-up construction. Maybe Hicks needs to bat further down in the order and have the bench coach sit with him while he watches early at-bats by others (like be Revere did, perhaps).
      Maybe Mauer isn't a #2 hitter. But the Twins have no one to bat leadoff unless you want to put Escobar, Florimon, Carroll or Dozier in there at the moment.
      Mauer needs to advance runners and get on base. If he can advance a runner AND get on base, it makes the Willingham and Morneau atbats more valuable. Willingham as #3 isn't seeing much in the way of rbis at the moment.
      But back to Hicks. He is overmatched and should't be getting 4/5 at bats every inning right now. Let him pull back to the end of the order. Then move him to the 2 spot at some point. If he starts taking pitches not for strikes, then reconsider leadoff.
      But I vote let him take his bumps in this season and learn from the so-called major league coaching staff. If he's the future, let him jump in feet first!
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Nick, a well-written and interesting read, but it looks like you didn't address the possibility that the decision to give Hicks the CF job was a bad call before the first pitch on opening day.

      In my book, skipping AAA with a guy who has needed at least a full year at each level and who has consistently had an obvious concern in his game (contact rate) is a textbook example of impatience. Maybe that's only my book, and nobody else's.

      If the Twins impatiently rushed Hicks to the majors (and that possibility should finally be occurring to even them by now), isn't a prolonged refusal to address the ongoing failure of that poorly calculated risk just stubbornness, not patience?

      I'm not advocating some sort of weekly merrygoround of promotions and demotions based on tiny sample sizes, and I don't think anyone else is, with Hicks or anyone else. Many people seem to think either that he looks lost and his continued struggles aren't good for him, or that he shouldn't have been put in this position in the first place. Or both.

      My question is this: Suppose even the Twins braintrust were to admit to themselves that Hicks = opening day CF was a mistake. Are you saying that promoting him from AA to AAA after an ill-advised 10 or 15 game detour in the majors would still be worse than what's happening to him now? Thanks for taking my call. I'll hang up and listen.
    1. shs_59's Avatar
      shs_59 -
      Question is though, (if this continues) do you send HIcks down to AAA or AA ? to re-boot Nick?

      Hate to say i told you so, but i told you so few weeks back. He was not ready. Me saying he'd hit .230 -.240 something in MLB in April/ May/ June was Generous. I look at every box score of every game For Twins minor Leaguers. the past 2 years.... and despite only seeing Hicks play a handfull of times..... i KNEW that spring was a mirrage.... Those Hr's were so fake also.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      Quote Originally Posted by LaBombo View Post
      Nick, a well-written and interesting read, but it looks like you didn't address the possibility that the decision to give Hicks the CF job was a bad call before the first pitch on opening day.
      I don't think he did either, and neither did I in my reply. The fact is, we're past that point. The decision was made, and when you decide to put a guy like Hicks on your roster, you have to play him, and not sporadically off the bench.

      Whether the decision to put him on the major league roster prior to April 1 was a good idea is another discussion entirely (and I came down on the side of putting him in AAA). It's also a discussion almost impossible to have without hindsight bias.

      I just don't think it much matters halfway through April. You're not getting those 10 games back.
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      After a day off....... three more strikeouts.
      I am guilty.
      I am one paralyzed by hope.
      I was one tantalized and enticed from spring training brightness.
      But it is not to be, at least yet.
      Please, it is getting very painful to everyone that is watching, and to Hicks himself.
      Please, nobody even knows if he can excel in AAA, yet.
      It is time to see.
      That is were the confidence is hiding.
      It is not on the Twins, right yet.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      With Hicks I'm just not sure... Normally... I'd commit to a rookie and let him work out his kinks for awhile. I don't want to do anything knee jerk after a handful of games.

      He's just struggling way too much. Perhaps if he was just struggling a little but a little doesn't describe what's happening.

      I hope he rights the ship real quick... The longer this goes on the harder it will be to keep in the majors.
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alex View Post
      And if a guy strikes out 20- 25% of the time in AA and over 40% in the bigs?
      Sorry.......... I got sidetracked. I was no longer referring to Hicks here. Speaking in glittering generalities......... the when it works part. Sorry for the tangent.
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