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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. 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.

      So sorry for the double post. I posted from the link from the front page, and I and it didn't show up. In fact, I am getting nothing showing up past my previous post from the link from the front page, even now. But I see many past from the link from the forum........ site seems to be glitching again.
    1. jun's Avatar
      jun -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      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.
      Wrong again. He played and went 0 for 5 with 3 strikeouts. He needs to be moved down to the 9th spot until Mastro returns. By then he could be sent down to AAA.
    1. mako83's Avatar
      mako83 -
      Can anybody post what about droping him in the order. You could also start giving him a rest after five days on. Its not called giving up its called building confidence.
    1. Pius Jefferson's Avatar
      Pius Jefferson -
      If you drop him in the order than you have to find someone to hit lead-off.
    1. CI Ranger's Avatar
      CI Ranger -
      Quote Originally Posted by beckmt View Post
      Great article, need to give these youngsters a chance, not total mess up their minds with pressure to succeed now.
      Not hitting or getting on base leading off, take some pressure off Hicks, put him down in the 8 or 9 spot, put your smokin hot hitter last 5 games at leadoff. He will get it, once he starts to roll , move him up a spot or two until he regains and earns the leadoff spot
    1. CI Ranger's Avatar
      CI Ranger -
      put hicks at 8 or 9 spot, no pressure, he will work his way and get better
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Pius Jefferson View Post
      If you drop him in the order than you have to find someone to hit lead-off.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      To me, the Hicks debate comes down to why you want to demote him. If the reason is to somehow help his development, then I can understand. Although, I don't agree and I think the best thing for his development is to work through the struggles. However, that is beside the point and I at least understand this argument.

      Now, if the reason for demotion is to improve the team, then I don't understand that rationale. First off, there isn't a player capable of truly helping this team win more games, at least not in center field. Second, Hicks is still the best defensive player at the position that the Twins have and has the most offensive upside of the reasonable candidates.

      Sure, you could platoon Mastroianni and Clete Thomas, but does that platoon really figure to out-produce Hicks if given a full season?

      Finally, this is a bad team. I know the 4-2 start was fun, but the Twins aren't winning more than 70 games this season, so why not give Hicks these games when the stakes are relatively low? That way, in 2014, when the team might actually start to compete, they will have a better idea as to whether they have their long-term center fielder.

      He has played 8 games. If he earned the job in Spring Training, he has certainly earned more than three series to show his talent.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      Why can't you demote him both to improve his development and make the team better?
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      To me, the Hicks debate comes down to why you want to demote him. If the reason is to somehow help his development, then I can understand. Although, I don't agree and I think the best thing for his development is to work through the struggles. However, that is beside the point and I at least understand this argument.

      Now, if the reason for demotion is to improve the team, then I don't understand that rationale. First off, there isn't a player capable of truly helping this team win more games, at least not in center field. Second, Hicks is still the best defensive player at the position that the Twins have and has the most offensive upside of the reasonable candidates.

      Sure, you could platoon Mastroianni and Clete Thomas, but does that platoon really figure to out-produce Hicks if given a full season?

      Finally, this is a bad team. I know the 4-2 start was fun, but the Twins aren't winning more than 70 games this season, so why not give Hicks these games when the stakes are relatively low? That way, in 2014, when the team might actually start to compete, they will have a better idea as to whether they have their long-term center fielder.

      He has played 8 games. If he earned the job in Spring Training, he has certainly earned more than three series to show his talent.
      I think that the bottom line is that it's clear if things don't turn around Hicks doesn't belong in the majors right now. Having him way over his head is not working through struggles, it builds frustration, leads to a lack of confidence, and ruins good mechanics as hitters make flailing adjustments (see Dozier last year).

      Second, whether or not you think this team can compete, saying no one else can help them win games just isn't true. Hicks is one of the two worst hitters in baseball through these first three series, if not the worst, and he's posted the most negative WAR so far. So by almost any standards, any ML CF including Mastroianni, would be able to help the team more. I agree that that may not be the concern if Hicks were just "struggling," as the team just isn't that good, but this is far more than that.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alex View Post
      I think that the bottom line is that it's clear if things don't turn around Hicks doesn't belong in the majors right now. Having him way over his head is not working through struggles, it builds frustration, leads to a lack of confidence, and ruins good mechanics as hitters make flailing adjustments (see Dozier last year).

      Second, whether or not you think this team can compete, saying no one else can help them win games just isn't true. Hicks is one of the two worst hitters in baseball through these first three series, if not the worst, and he's posted the most negative WAR so far. So by almost any standards, any ML CF including Mastroianni, would be able to help the team more. I agree that that may not be the concern if Hicks were just "struggling," as the team just isn't that good, but this is far more than that.
      Hicks has been one of the two worst hitters through those 8 games. That doesn't mean he will continue to be one of the two worst hitters for the remainder of the season. That is my point. Over a 162 game season, I think Hicks will outproduce Mastroianni, Thomas, Benson, Boggs, etc. If the Twins feel he is the best player at the position, they should keep playing him, regardless of how he performs in three series. If he has the best talent, he is the most likely to give the best performance.

      These are all projections based on a tiny sample of games. In addition, we have no idea where his confidence level is right now and we have no idea how frustrated he feels. I also think it is worth noting that if this 8 game stretch of games occurred in the middle of the season, we wouldn't be analyzing it this closely.

      I am also not saying he should never be sent down. I just think he needs to be given a lot more time before that decision is made.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by snepp View Post
      Why can't you demote him both to improve his development and make the team better?
      My argument is that it doesn't make the team better.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by 70charger View Post
      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.
      Thought it was clear I was only talking about sending him down, not benching him, which is obviously a bad idea. Not worried about how much he may have cost the team so far, and not worried a lot going forward unless virtually everything else breaks right for them.

      Couldn't disagree more that the thought process that lead to him being the opening day CF is now irrelevant to his situation.

      If the Twins were looking at a very solid, conflict-free body of evidence that Hicks was ready for the majors opening day, then a 'be patient' thread wouldn't, or at least shouldn't, exist. A strong season or even half season in AAA with improvement in his contact rate, and Hicks is a guy in a slump who probably gets at least a month or two before anyone is thinking demotion.

      Instead, you've got a guy who skipped a level rather than improving his contact rate in AAA, and a lot less to go on about how ready he is, and about what to do next.

      So I can't imagine how the two different evaluation/decision paths don't affect the odds or timing of demotion, unless the Twins decided before the season opener that he stays for X number of weeks, no matter what he does here. If that's the case, I don't see their line of reasoning.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      He has played 8 games. If he earned the job in Spring Training, he has certainly earned more than three series to show his talent.
      If he did earn the job in spring training, then he did it while taking about as few AB's against quality MLB pitchers as he has so far in the regular season, making the sample size a wash.

      And if the Twins really didn't decide Hicks was ready until seeing him in ST, then that means their contingency plans if he were not ready for CF on opening day amounted to Mastro, who is fine as a placeholder, and Benson, who almost nobody wants to see in the majors again until he shows some signs of life in AAA.

      So the whole 'Hicksie won the job in ST' meme is the FO either being dishonest and negligent if they decided before ST, or merely negligent. Which do you think?

      Also, although I know this was touched in an earlier thread, how many non-HOF-caliber Twins position players have been promoted from AA to open the season in the majors, and succeeded, or even stuck? Anybody feel free to jump in. It would be encouraging to hear even a few good examples.
    1. Pius Jefferson's Avatar
      Pius Jefferson -
      Quote Originally Posted by snepp View Post
      Good luck with that. Given his slow start it's more likely Gardy moves Mauer down to third.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Rosterman View Post
      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!
      I don't think we'd be having this conversation if he was getting this many at bats per inning
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      Hicks has been one of the two worst hitters through those 8 games. That doesn't mean he will continue to be one of the two worst hitters for the remainder of the season. That is my point. Over a 162 game season, I think Hicks will outproduce Mastroianni, Thomas, Benson, Boggs, etc. If the Twins feel he is the best player at the position, they should keep playing him, regardless of how he performs in three series. If he has the best talent, he is the most likely to give the best performance.

      These are all projections based on a tiny sample of games. In addition, we have no idea where his confidence level is right now and we have no idea how frustrated he feels. I also think it is worth noting that if this 8 game stretch of games occurred in the middle of the season, we wouldn't be analyzing it this closely.

      I am also not saying he should never be sent down. I just think he needs to be given a lot more time before that decision is made.
      It's one thing if he was crushing AAA and then called up and struggled. It's another thing to have a good (yes, that's really all it was) year in AA and make the jump and then struggle. It might indicate it's not just an "adjustment" period -- there were signs in AA that this could happen (I pointed out his strikeout rate we we first discussed this way back when). It could be a sign they moved him up too fast. I'm not saying they send him down today, but if he shows no improvement, I don't think you can keep him up another series after this. If he shows a little improvement, well, then you decide as you go.



      How much time for you?
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      I am fine with giving Hicks the full season to figure things out, if that is what it takes. Reasonably, I think a month is almost necessary. If the Twins decide to demote him on May 1, I can understand that. I would not agree with it though. I'd definitely drop him in the batting order prior to sending him to AAA.

      As for contingency, I think the Twins assumed that one of Hicks, Mastro and Benson would be fine. They made their choice, it may not be working right now, but I still think it was the best choice. I fully expect Hicks to turn things around, so perhaps that is why I am on this side of the discussion. I may end up being wrong, but I'd like to get a good enough look at the guy before I admit that I am.

      I just have a hard time calling the front office dishonest or negligent, when I do not have all the information. They make decisions based on the information they have in front of them. I've said this before, you can argue with their methods and evaluations, but I don't think it is fair to accuse them of incompetence or conspiracy. I'd say their relatively successful track record with player development and roster construction is something we tend to forget about in the moment.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      I am fine with giving Hicks the full season to figure things out, if that is what it takes. Reasonably, I think a month is almost necessary. If the Twins decide to demote him on May 1, I can understand that. I would not agree with it though. I'd definitely drop him in the batting order prior to sending him to AAA.

      As for contingency, I think the Twins assumed that one of Hicks, Mastro and Benson would be fine. They made their choice, it may not be working right now, but I still think it was the best choice. I fully expect Hicks to turn things around, so perhaps that is why I am on this side of the discussion. I may end up being wrong, but I'd like to get a good enough look at the guy before I admit that I am.

      I just have a hard time calling the front office dishonest or negligent, when I do not have all the information. They make decisions based on the information they have in front of them. I've said this before, you can argue with their methods and evaluations, but I don't think it is fair to accuse them of incompetence or conspiracy. I'd say their relatively successful track record with player development and roster construction is something we tend to forget about in the moment.
      Since Terry Ryan, in terms of evaluation, they have moved players up too quickly and have certainly misrepresented players readiness and skillset tto the public.

      I think for Hick's sake more than anything else, if he doesn't show signs of life, you have to send him down.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alex View Post
      Since Terry Ryan, in terms of evaluation, they have moved players up too quickly and have certainly misrepresented players readiness and skillset tto the public.

      I think for Hick's sake more than anything else, if he doesn't show signs of life, you have to send him down.
      Fair enough, we just disagree on the timetable, and that is fine. Although, I always thought the criticism against the Twins and their farm system organization was that they moved players too slowly.
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