• 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 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.

    photo by Jesse Johnson

    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?
    1.) Will Monday nightís two home runs (plus the robbing of Dunnís 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? SinceÖ yesterday?
    This article was originally published in blog: Hope for Hicks started by Seth Stohs
    Comments 49 Comments
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      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.
      I disagree with the "it doesn't matter" portion. It may not matter as far as the "stats" go, but it does say something to me about his general aggressiveness in those situations. We have all seen him be VERY selective in choosing the right pitch and be overly cautious at the plate, but with RISP his approach has changed and regardless of the outcome of those appearances, that does matter. He needs to find the balance between using his strike zone discipline and being more assertive. That comes with repetition.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Since being pushed down the lineup, Hicks is hitting .226/.347/.452 with 12 walks to 15 strike outs. His babip in that time is only .244 so he might have been a little unlucky in there. He's also managed about 1.1 bWAR in that time (it bottomed out at -0.3).

      He does have a splits issue but I think he's been a much better player since getting out of the leadoff spot. I have no problem with them keeping him up here for awhile longer. If he goes into another 0-10game stretch, demote him to AAA but, for now, he's improving.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      he needs to stick to batting right handed.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      Random question for Seth. Who took that picture? Where did it come from?
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      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.

      I don't think anyone should be surprised that he's struggling from the left side... that's just going to take time.
      So he really hasn't been that slow in improving this year. That's a big jump from the horrific start.

      And clearly he should not be demoted. That would be a ridiculous move at this point.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Also, Buxton is not going to be competition for Hicks. At all. I would think that an OF of X-Buxton-Hicks is the long-term idea.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      he needs to stick to batting right handed.
      Because magically he is going to be able to hit RH pitching from the right side after not doing it for years?
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Also, Buxton is not going to be competition for Hicks. At all. I would think that an OF of X-Buxton-Hicks is the long-term idea.
      Exactly...Buxton in CF with Hicks in RF and Arcia in LF.
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      A lot of the "keep him here" or "send him down" talk with prospects is unfair. Each kid is SO different. Hicks father was a pro ball player, although he never got to the show. Another thing that may play into the intangibles category is that Hicks was a standout amateur golfer that possibly could have done that professionally. The only reason I bring these two points up is to be successful at golf consistently requires a ton of mental toughness. Also, having the family that has been exactly where he is, struggling and struggling yet persevering requires tremendous amounts of character. Hicks may be the kind of kid that will improve far more from Gardenhire, Bruno and other teaching and coaching him very hard than what he would get at AAA. Not all of these young men are wired the same and I think Hicks will be able to persevere through this slump and will be coachable.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Because magically he is going to be able to hit RH pitching from the right side after not doing it for years?
      I don't know about magically. Didn't the switch hitting come about more to utilize his speed? Do you have stats about how he did as a RH batter against RH pitching and is it worse than what we're seeing him do as a LH hitter versus RH pitching?
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      I don't know about magically. Didn't the switch hitting come about more to utilize his speed? Do you have stats about how he did as a RH batter against RH pitching and is it worse than what we're seeing him do as a LH hitter versus RH pitching?
      He's always been a switch hitter. His dad (a former ML minor leaguer) wanted him to stick with golf so he told him if he was going to play baseball he had to do it left handed. And he was still a stud. Twins drafted him and had him as a switch hitter from day one.

      I'm not sure if he wouldn't have been a better hitter if he had stayed right handed but it is what it is at this point.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Why is it what it is at this point? Why can't he be a RH hitter full time? I'm not saying it would work, but I never understood why they didn't try it at some point in the minors.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Why is it what it is at this point?
      It isn't. There is nothing stopping them from saying no more LH batting.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Third in homers on the Twins is like being what? There must be some internet MEME here we can use......
      Fun with numbers. He's also fourth in RBIs.
    1. cmb0252's Avatar
      cmb0252 -
      During Hicks minor league career he was not only a slow mover but a slow starter, most switch hitters are, so I'm confused by the high expectations. I find it funny how excited people got over a few at bats in spring training but now are down on him because of a few at bats in the bigs. I think this is a case of people over valuing spring training numbers and not knowing enough about Hicks as a prospect.

      Hicks is going to be fine. Not only has he shown improvements in the outfield but as noted above since starting 3-53 he has hit pretty well.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmb0252 View Post
      During Hicks minor league career he was not only a slow mover but a slow starter, most switch hitters are, so I'm confused by the high expectations. I find it funny how excited people got over a few at bats in spring training but now are down on him because of a few at bats in the bigs. I think this is a case of people over valuing spring training numbers and not knowing enough about Hicks as a prospect.

      Hicks is going to be fine. Not only has he shown improvements in the outfield but as noted above since starting 3-53 he has hit pretty well.
      I've been high on Hicks for quite some time now...well before this ST...my thoughts haven't changed one bit.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Third in homers on the Twins is like being what? There must be some internet MEME here we can use......
      Is that, like, when we were kids and we divided into two teams and the captains took turns picking and when there were only two left you were glad they picked you since it meant you weren't last?

      Or, did that not happen to anybody else.
    1. beehles's Avatar
      beehles -
      Hick and Arcia should start some kind of competition among each other to motivate and rub off one another...see which rookie can put up better numbers in each series. Loser buys team steak dinner haha
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Why is it what it is at this point? Why can't he be a RH hitter full time? I'm not saying it would work, but I never understood why they didn't try it at some point in the minors.
      He hasn't done it at all as a pro. He's 23. He has over 2100 minor league PA. The Twins aren't going to tell him to go back to the minors and get another 500 milb at bats righty on righty. I don't know if they should or shouldn't but it's done at this point. Unless he completely fails hitting as a lefty, they aren't going to pull the plug.

      I sorta agree with you. I think he should have hit RH full time (or at least I hope the Twins thought about it and decided that he had enough ability to switch hit).
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      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.

      I don't think anyone should be surprised that he's struggling from the left side... that's just going to take time.
      I posted a similar thing recently, but to repeat and update, the improvements at the plate have been steady and continuous since the terrible start:

      Hicks OPS, season: .152/.256/.286
      last 28 days: .233/.329/.467
      last 14 days: .235/.316/.618
      last 7 days: .333/.412/.800

      Leave the kid alone, and let him play. He had a horrible start to the season, and since it WAS the start of the season, the numbers got way too much attention. Players go through slumps and hot streaks, always have and always will. Mauer went through one. Willingham is hitting .111/.347/.167 over the past 2 weeks, but nobody is calling for him to lose his job.

      As for switch hitting, it's a huge advantage, if the player can pull it off. We don't know yet that he can't, so any calls for him to abandon it are premature as well.
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