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 Hicksí 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.
Following the game Hicks' stat line showed .152/.256/.286 (.542). Itís a good reminder of how much he has struggled. It is going to take him a while to get those numbers up into the ďrespectableĒ 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, itís 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. Letís take a quick look at the historic Aaron Hicks stat line and recall why there is so much optimism for his future.
We wonít 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 donít 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 wonít 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 youíve 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 Hicksí immense talent. Now, itís 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 doesnít 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. Itís 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?
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? SinceÖ yesterday?