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  • 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. beckmt's Avatar
      beckmt -
      Great article, need to give these youngsters a chance, not total mess up their minds with pressure to succeed now.
    1. grumpyrob's Avatar
      grumpyrob -
      Completely agree with your take. We know we are not going too do to much this year, and while the fast start was nice, there does need to be a sense of reality here. While we might compete against some teams, we are not set to take over the division for at least a couple of years. Having some patience in this situation is the key to these players.
    1. dakotanative's Avatar
      dakotanative -
      Quote Originally Posted by grumpyrob View Post
      Completely agree with your take. We know we are not going too do to much this year, and while the fast start was nice, there does need to be a sense of reality here. While we might compete against some teams, we are not set to take over the division for at least a couple of years. Having some patience in this situation is the key to these players.
      This article is soooo true. How many times was Tori Hunter sent back to the minors before he finally matured as a player to stick with the big club - 2-3? As with all sports patience is required when developing talented players (this is true in business as well). The attitude of the player and the player developing culture of the organization is the key. We do not have a Steinbrenner or, in the case of football, a Dan Snyder running the team. With Ryan and Gardenhire we at least have a leadership team with a track record of patience in the development of talented young ballplayers. Doesn't always work - just ask Luis Rivas - but we have a wave of talented kids coming that will rival any group of kids in the history of the Twins. We and they will go through our ups and downs, but it is the prospect of seeing a line up with Hicks, Buxton, Rosario, Santana, Sano, Harrison, etc., along with a staff of Meyer, Barrios, May, Tonkin, etc. in it that keeps me reading Twins Centric and excited for the future of our beloved Twins.
    1. grumpyrob's Avatar
      grumpyrob -
      Quote Originally Posted by dakotanative View Post
      This article is soooo true. How many times was Tori Hunter sent back to the minors before he finally matured as a player to stick with the big club - 2-3? As with all sports patience is required when developing talented players (this is true in business as well). The attitude of the player and the player developing culture of the organization is the key. We do not have a Steinbrenner or, in the case of football, a Dan Snyder running the team. With Ryan and Gardenhire we at least have a leadership team with a track record of patience in the development of talented young ballplayers. Doesn't always work - just ask Luis Rivas - but we have a wave of talented kids coming that will rival any group of kids in the history of the Twins. We and they will go through our ups and downs, but it is the prospect of seeing a line up with Hicks, Buxton, Rosario, Santana, Sano, Harrison, etc., along with a staff of Meyer, Barrios, May, Tonkin, etc. in it that keeps me reading Twins Centric and excited for the future of our beloved Twins.
      I am excited about the future as well. And in all honesty, if I had a chance, I would love to be able to watch this team battle its tail off at a live game or at least live on tv. But, I guess I will have to settle for re-runs after knowing the outcome. Not that great, but I still watch.
    1. SurroundedByTigers's Avatar
      SurroundedByTigers -
      Why should we be patient? We're asking for performance - good at-bats, grounds balls, something. Right now, Hicks is overmatched, and needs to get his act together and show us he WANTS to play in the majors. If Hicks can't perform, he's got to go back to AAA or wherever to learn what he needs to do to be successful. Parmalee was not hurt by bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors. Hendricks is not hurt by bouncing between AAA and the majors. Here's the bottom line - I want Hicks to succeed, and I hope he succeeds. Patience lasts only so long. Then he's got to do it, or send him down.
      PS - Same for Dozier.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      'Parmalee was not hurt by bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors. Hendricks is not hurt by bouncing between AAA and the majors.'

      How do you know that?
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Great stuff, Nick. No reason not to give the kids plenty of time this year to prove or disprove their ability to be MLB players. Struggling or not, I'd rather see the ABs go to a Hicks, a Parmalee, a Dozier than some washed-up scrub vet.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by SurroundedByTigers View Post
      Parmalee was not hurt by bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors.
      Chris Parmelee and his 2012 .671 OPS do not endorse this statement.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I agree, the team needs to be patient. I'm not sure that is true of fans, but I'm not sure it isn't true. Not sure what my role is in this process.....should I just accept bad play and keep paying for it? Should I boo bad play? should I just ignore bad play? Should I shout random encouragment that the players can't hear?

      In the long run, if it matters to a player if the fans are patient, I doubt that player has the confidence to be great.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Quote Originally Posted by dakotanative View Post
      With Ryan and Gardenhire we at least have a leadership team with a track record of patience in the development of talented young ballplayers.
      Did you watch the team from 2002 to 2010?
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Good Job Nick. It makes perfect sense to me. One thing I was thinking about is the affect of a day off. By my maths, Hicks played more innings than any other ballplayer in the majors this spring. Then he has played all nine innings of every game until last night. It looks like today's game will be rained out. So he might get a three-day break before Friday's game. Hopefully, the rest will refresh his mind so he can start fresh on Friday.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      Did you watch the team from 2002 to 2010?
      This. Cuddyer and Kubel's management was particularly aggravating.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      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?
      This is an apt analogy. I don't think we learned anything about Parmelee's long-term prospects last year, which is why we're pretty much back to square one with him this year.

      As much as I don't like Hicks' approach thus far - he is certainly capable of better - if you don't let him play through the slump, you'll never know how he responds to slumps. Calls for demotion are way premature.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by SurroundedByTigers View Post
      Why should we be patient? We're asking for performance - good at-bats, grounds balls, something. Right now, Hicks is overmatched, and needs to get his act together and show us he WANTS to play in the majors. If Hicks can't perform, he's got to go back to AAA or wherever to learn what he needs to do to be successful. Parmalee was not hurt by bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors. Hendricks is not hurt by bouncing between AAA and the majors. Here's the bottom line - I want Hicks to succeed, and I hope he succeeds. Patience lasts only so long. Then he's got to do it, or send him down.
      PS - Same for Dozier.
      I would be willing to put a pretty decent sum of money on the fact that these players WANT to play in the majors. In the end, it really isn't that simple. They cannot just will themselves to be able to play baseball in the ML at a high level. It comes with practice and patience. I'm not sure Hicks was ready to skip AAA personally, but that's a different issue alltogether. Bottom line is that he's here now, and he should get an extended tryout where he knows the job is his before any decisions are made to send him down.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      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.
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      jimbo, thanks for your comments. Very interesting stuff. I've never heard the process described quite like this.

      Many years ago I suffered the indignity of being an early cut from the T-ball team. Finally, I know why. It was because of my exagerated lag-loop-lag, which caused me to knock the post out from underneath the ball every time.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimbo92107 View Post
      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.
      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.
    1. ThejacKmp's Avatar
      ThejacKmp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Chris Parmelee and his 2012 .671 OPS do not endorse this statement.
      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.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by 70charger View Post
      This is an apt analogy. I don't think we learned anything about Parmelee's long-term prospects last year, which is why we're pretty much back to square one with him this year.

      As much as I don't like Hicks' approach thus far - he is certainly capable of better - if you don't let him play through the slump, you'll never know how he responds to slumps. Calls for demotion are way premature.
      And who put Parmalee in that position last year? And, if it happens to Hicks, who will have put him in that position?

      While I don't think he should have been demoted yet, this is something different from a slump. I also think that if a player is major league ready, he should be, you know, major league ready. I don't expect numbers like he put up in AA, but I would expect numbers where you wouldn't consider using Drew Butera as a pinch hitter for him.

      The Twins said he was ready. So far, they've been wrong.
    1. ThejacKmp's Avatar
      ThejacKmp -
      Quote Originally Posted by 70charger View Post
      This is an apt analogy. I don't think we learned anything about Parmelee's long-term prospects last year, which is why we're pretty much back to square one with him this year.

      As much as I don't like Hicks' approach thus far - he is certainly capable of better - if you don't let him play through the slump, you'll never know how he responds to slumps. Calls for demotion are way premature.
      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."

      The only thing we can really say with any certainty is that players need to play. If Hicks is going to be platooned, might as well send him down and let him work everyday.
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