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  • Hope for Hicks

    Coming into the game, Minnesota Twins centerfielder Aaron Hicks had a hitting line of .137/.239/.216 (.455). He had just five extra base hits in the first 30 games. He had struggled on defense as well as with the bat.

    And then came Monday night.

    After popping up in his first at-bat, Hicks came to the plate to lead off the 4th inning. He launched a long home run, 416 feet to straight-away centerfield.

    In the top of the 6th inning, the Twins lead had been cut to 5-3 with a runner on base when Adam Dunn, who also came into the game with a .137 batting average, came to the plate. Dunn launched a ball to nearly the same spot as Hicks’ home run. Hicks raced back to the wall, leapt and caught the ball well above the fence, robbing Dunn of a game-tying home run.

    The Target Field crowd erupted as Hicks showed the ball and smiled all the way back in to the dugout. He was scheduled to bat second in the bottom of the 6th. After Oswaldo Arcia struck out, Hicks stepped to the plate. On the first pitch from lefty Hector Santiago, Hicks made solid contact and launched the ball 412 feet into the bullpen behind the left field fence.

    In doing so, he became the youngest Twins player to have a multi-home run game since Justin Morneau did it in 2004. On his arrival in the dugout, the fans demanded a curtain call. Hicks obliged.

    photo by Jesse Johnson

    Following the game Hicks' stat line showed .152/.256/.286 (.542). It’s a good reminder of how much he has struggled. It is going to take him a while to get those numbers up into the “respectable” category. However, his ability to take walks and show some power are encouraging for the long-term.

    As disappointing as the first six weeks of the season have been for Hicks, it’s important to remember why fans were exciting about him. No, it had nothing to do with the small-sample of spring training, though that was certainly encouraging. Let’s take a quick look at the historic Aaron Hicks stat line and recall why there is so much optimism for his future.

    We won’t go all the way back to 2008 when the Twins took the California prep with the 14th overall pick. At the time, some teams ranked him higher than that, but as a pitcher. Hicks wanted to be a hitter and the Twins were happy to take a guy that many believed had five-tool potential.

    It certainly has not been an easy ride up the Twins' farm system. In 2009, he was scheduled to play in Elizabethton, but roster injuries in Beloit pulled him up to the low-A Mid-West League. He struggled enough in 2009 that he repeated Beloit in 2010 and showed much improvement. In 2011, he moved up to Ft. Myers where he again struggled early. He was a surprise invitee to the Arizona Fall League, where he had a nice breakout showing.

    In 2012, he moved up to AA and showed what he could be as a player if he were to develop well. Hicks hit .286/.384/.460 (.844). Although I don’t believe that he will ever be a real high batting average guy, at each level Hicks has shown a knack for getting on base. It is always great to see that trait remain as a player moves up levels.

    In 2012 Hicks also had 21 doubles, 11 triples and 13 home runs. This shows that Hicks is not just a guy who stands at the plate and hopes to draw a walk. He has plenty of extra base power. He likely won’t be a 30 homer guy but, at his peak, Hicks could hit 15-20 home runs a year. The doubles and triples show that he has very good gap power and the triples also indicate the kind of speed he has. Add 32 stolen bases and you know you’ve got a very fast player.

    Is he a five-tool player? Because he strikes out quite a bit, he may never have a great BA tool, but I think his ability to draw walks makes up for that to some degree. He has good power for the position he plays. He certainly has very good speed. Although we have not seen it consistently- some question his route-taking- Aaron Hicks can be a very good outfielder with good range. And, as a former pitcher, his arm is very strong and generally quite accurate.

    Is it surprising that Aaron Hicks has struggled early in the season? Not at all. Hicks has usually struggled early when going to a new level. Then, consider that he is skipping a level and is in the big leagues for the first time. His struggles have been monumental, but a game like Monday night's should remind us of Hicks’ immense talent. Now, it’s largely a matter of how well he can put together consistent quality plate appearances from game to game, or even from at-bat to at-bat.

    Does one tremendous game mean that the tide has turned and all will be good for Hicks going forward? Of course not. What it does, for me, is serve as a reminder that the Twins need to do whatever it is that is best for Hicks' long-term success. Is that letting him struggle in the big leagues, or is there a better situation for Hicks in Rochester? I don't pretend to know the answer; that can be different for each player. The variables to the answer go beyond the physical and deep into the mental and psychological makeup of the player.

    The Smile doesn’t show up on the stat page, and often we tend to mock the intangibles, but it was continually brought up how much Hicks was smiling following the catch, then after the second home run and through the curtain call. With his struggles, it is great to see Hicks having fun. It’s easy to say that one is having fun, but it was clear that Hicks was relaxed enough at that point to be having a blast. Relaxing will only help his performance on the field.

    So, what do you think?
    1.) Will Monday night’s two home runs (plus the robbing of Dunn’s home run) be the start of something big for Hicks, or was it just a good game?

    2.) In your opinion, what is best for Hicks, struggling in the big leagues, or being able to work on things in Triple-A Rochester?

    3.) How do you feel about the future of Aaron Hicks? How has that opinion changed since the offseason? Since spring training? Since… yesterday?
    This article was originally published in blog: Hope for Hicks started by Seth Stohs
    Comments 49 Comments
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      1. Hicks was already slowly improving. I think this might speed it up somewhat so that the next six weeks has him at .210/.315/.350. This is just the start.

      2. I would absolutely have said NO and that he should have been in AAA. However, the Twins have now managed to be 18-17 while Hicks was doing this. I think this is going to work out well for both Hicks and the Twins.

      3. The view for me hasn't changed, though I see a struggle in the short-term and that is against RH pitching. There is going to be a problem here. Last year was strong for him in AA because he started to correct his split problem. We CANNOT expect him to continue that improvement at this level. I can't believe I ignored this specific problem until now. But as a RH against lefties, he can be a competent hitter right now. And the defense is still pretty good this year.
    1. Brodin4Calder's Avatar
      Brodin4Calder -
      Hicks is capable of more power than you give him credit for, I would say he has a chance to be a 20-25 HR guy and maybe max out at 30 a year or 2. Although he has struggled he seems like on most of his hits he drives in runs. He could be a .270-.280 average, 15-25HR. 30SB, 80+RBI guy. Maybe even more than all that? But I dont think he ever becomes a "Great" player. He could be pretty good but dont expect annual trips to the all star game...
    1. RodneyKline's Avatar
      RodneyKline -
      I was thrilled for him and his big day but he better finish out the year over .250 as a hitter or he is not going to make it here with Byron Buxton ready next year. Buxton is way ahead of Hicks so far. We have to realize that Hicks only had one minor league season that was above average until he had that great spring training. Hicks is also one guy that we shouldn't look at his OB% so far this year. That is a huge negative as far as I see because he has been afraid to swing for most of the year. I really hope he turns it around but I am super excited to see what Buxton can do also. I think Buxton is the real deal. Not that Hicks can't be great also but Buxton looks really special. Like MVP special. If Hicks gets above .250 this season then I will be excited about him too. We need three outfield spots filled the last time I checked so I really hope Hicks is great too. He sure is exciting when he does do great like he did tonight.
    1. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      Last nights power display was a fun way to see him get his first multi hit game in his career. One thing I am impressed with is the number of RBI and Runs he has scored considering his inability to get hits so far. He has more RBI then Plouffe. Does anyone know what Hick's stat line is in the "clutch" or with RISP? So when Buxton Arrives does Hicks move to LF keeping Arcia in RF?
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by RodneyKline View Post
      I was thrilled for him and his big day but he better finish out the year over .250 as a hitter or he is not going to make it here with Byron Buxton ready next year. Buxton is way ahead of Hicks so far.
      Buxton is in A ball. There are three OF spots. Hicks and Buxton will roam the Twins OF in future years. They are not in competition with one another except who gets to play center.

      Quote Originally Posted by RodneyKline View Post
      We have to realize that Hicks only had one minor league season that was above average until he had that great spring training.
      He had three well above average seasons in the minors, actually.

      Quote Originally Posted by RodneyKline View Post
      Hicks is also one guy that we shouldn't look at his OB% so far this year. That is a huge negative as far as I see because he has been afraid to swing for most of the year.
      I'll take the kid who is "afraid" to swing but has a good eye over the guy who swings away 99% of the time. It's a lot easier to learn to swing at good pitches than it is to lay off bad ones (see Young, Delmon).
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brandon View Post
      Last nights power display was a fun way to see him get his first multi hit game in his career. One thing I am impressed with is the number of RBI and Runs he has scored considering his inability to get hits so far. He has more RBI then Plouffe. Does anyone know what Hick's stat line is in the "clutch" or with RISP? So when Buxton Arrives does Hicks move to LF keeping Arcia in RF?
      Whatever it is, it doesn't matter. RISPy-ness doesn't exist in general and it certainly doesn't tell anything in sample sizes under 50 PAs.
    1. Blackjack's Avatar
      Blackjack -
      We all hope that this is the kind of game propells him but realistically he'll have some more slumps, the advance scouts will find the holes in his game. At that point - July 1st? - it wouldn't hurt for him to go down to AAA for a month, he's had a taste of the majors, should know what it takes to succeed, motivate him to get back. Motivation is a powerful tool.

      Personally I think he would have been sent down already if the Twins had an adequate centerfield replacement.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      I think his numbers this year, at least at this point in the season, are immaterial. He is here to get experience, and to improve, so that he can be a regular contributor in the years ahead.

      I think it is all about the intangibles - if it looked like he was getting discouraged and losing confidence, then absolutely you send him to Rochester. If it looks like he has a positive attitude and is seeking to improve, you keep him up here. Right now the later seems to be the case.

      Also, it was good to see Gardenhire recognize the performance in the post-game - that's the kind of stuff you want to hear the manager saying (and be able to say with a straight face).
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Splits, splits, splits. I won't be a full believer until he shows he can hit LH. If only there were more lefty starters for him to face......but it's great to see a game like last night. I wanted him up here once they dealt both Revere and Span, and I think he should stay up here. He can learn he as much as he canin Rochester, imo.
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      He's going to get way more at-bats left-handed than right-handed if he remains a switch-hitter, so as encouraging as last night was we still have a long ways to go before we know what Hicks can be. I'm as hopeful as anyone he can be really good, he's nearly my ideal profile for a center fielder, but we're still in SSS territory with Hicks, and one great game as a RH hitter doesn't immediately change his outlook.

      Boy that was a fun game to watch, though!
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by RodneyKline View Post
      Hicks is also one guy that we shouldn't look at his OB% so far this year. That is a huge negative as far as I see
      His OBP is over 100 points higher than his batting average. That's actually pretty impressive considering.
    1. Halsey Hall's Avatar
      Halsey Hall -
      I was glad Hicks came up out of spring training. I really didn't expect a hot start, but expected more than what he's done so far. I'm just about ready to jump sides and say maybe some time in AAA would be better for him.

      But, in the time he's been here, he's learned, alot. He's got to continue to learn and put that knowledge to use. He's certainly got a good command of the strike zone, and he's getting smoother on defense. His bat is improving little by little. He's at least hitting some balls with some authority now. Having Bruno there has to be a plus that he wouldn't have in Rochester. Last night I'd bet he was pretty surprised how far that first homer went with that short swing. File that one in the memory bank! And take it to the other side when hitting lefty.

      He seems alot more relaxed now, and playing with Arcia can't hurt that. I'll give another month and see what comes. Hopefully he'll keep improving, he's surely fun to watch, and could be a joy for years to come.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      His history is really bad in April, and he tends to heat up in May and June. Combine that with the jump from AA to the bigs, and we could expect him to struggle. Maybe not as badly as he did in April. If we could give him a mulligan for the first 10 games, he'd be right about where I'd expect at this point. As the season progresses, I expect him to continue to improve. As MWW said, no reason to send him down as long as he continues to improve.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Since going 3-for-53 in his first 15 games, Hicks is hitting .250/.310/.519. He's been hitless in only three of his last 15 starts. He ranks first on the team in steals, third in homers, third in runs scored. He's been scaling back the strikeouts and improving his defense in center field. Obviously his overall numbers are still ugly because the season-opening slump was so brutal, but he's done enough since then that a demotion shouldn't be in discussion right now.

      I don't think anyone should be surprised that he's struggling from the left side... that's just going to take time.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Wow. I'm amazed at what one good game does to people. Yes he is improving, maybe this game will help him get more confidence and he'll start stroking. Come on though dudes. This guy has had absolutely brutal AB's for the past month and a half. Whiffing on pitches in the middle of the plate and being incapable of hitting off-speed pitches. I'm encouraged by his performance last night but lets be reasonable.
      He could be a .270-.280 average, 15-25HR. 30SB, 80+RBI guy

      Are you ****ing kidding me? He hit .286 once in his entire professional career and now he's a .270-.280 guy after a 2 HR game while he's hitting .152 in 110 AB's? Wow dude. I can maybe see the 15 HR's since he is still young and should develop.

      I'm still in the opinion he should abandon hitting LH and just focus on RH. I guess last night is the only competency he's shown at the plate all year (besides taking walks), so it might not matter.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Splits, splits, splits. I won't be a full believer until he shows he can hit LH. If only there were more lefty starters for him to face......but it's great to see a game like last night. I wanted him up here once they dealt both Revere and Span, and I think he should stay up here. He can learn he as much as he canin Rochester, imo.
      I have to agree with Mike to a degree. At the very least, it looks like Hicks' power side will be RH. As long as he can maintain a comparable OBP from both sides, I think it is acceptable for Hicks to be a full-time player, but if the OBP gap gets too big, then it shows a big problem for Hicks' future going forward.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      His hot stretch earns him another month or so. If anyone remembers these hot/cold stretches were common in the minors also.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      I guess last night is the only competency he's shown at the plate all year (besides taking walks), so it might not matter. [/COLOR]
      Read Nick's comment. Last night was his first multi-hit game. But he's been getting hits and walks at a pretty good clip since April 15.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Third in homers on the Twins is like being what? There must be some internet MEME here we can use......
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Since going 3-for-53 in his first 15 games, Hicks is hitting .250/.310/.519. He's been hitless in only three of his last 15 starts. He ranks first on the team in steals, third in homers, third in runs scored. He's been scaling back the strikeouts and improving his defense in center field. Obviously his overall numbers are still ugly because the season-opening slump was so brutal, but he's done enough since then that a demotion shouldn't be in discussion right now..
      Thanks Nick for the numbers--I have been noticing the creeping up in his avg. since the beginning of May but didnt have the numbers. I was in the camp that said send him to Rochester for a month or two. Now I dont think so. Let him learn up here. If he gets the avg. up to 240 by the end of the year great. If not, OK. He can play CF well and save runs. As Bert says--let him have fun.

      Buxton is tearing up the Midwest League and will be up here in 2015--give Hicks 2 years to keep the job.
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