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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. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Why is SH a huge advantage, in isolation? Hitting only RH is a "huge advantage if the player can pull it off", I'd think.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Why is SH a huge advantage, in isolation? Hitting only RH is a "huge advantage if the player can pull it off", I'd think.
      Having the platoon advantage as a hitter has been an advantage for almost all players throughout the history of baseball. It's why managers bring in a right handed reliever to face a RH hitter, and vice versa. It's why managers stack the lineup with RH hitters off LH pitching, and vice versa. It's why Mauer is better against RH pitching than LH pitching. If you can switch hit, you always have the platoon advantage.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by 70charger View Post
      Random question for Seth. Who took that picture? Where did it come from?
      It's a photo by Jesse Johnson, and it's from USA Today. Thanks for pointing that out. Trying to get better at including the credit to the picture. I have added it now.
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      Hope for Hicks.....if he comes to the realization that he's a RHB.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      It's a photo by Jesse Johnson, and it's from USA Today. Thanks for pointing that out. Trying to get better at including the credit to the picture. I have added it now.
      I wasn't trying to call you out or anything; I just thought it was a good picture.
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      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.
      Amen! With that said, it would be nice to see Hick's batting average climb over .200 by the All-Star Break, with increased production over the second half of the season. Of course, if the wheels fall off, AAA is an option, but that would be a "fail" for Hicks, and the organization.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      For me, it doesn't matter how his overall numbers end up...it matters what he does from here on out. His first month will make his overall numbers take a huge hit, but if he keeps getting better, it won't tell the true story by the end of the year about the type of player he is.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      So he really hasn't been that slow in improving this year. That's a big jump from the horrific start.
      Well, yeah, being one of the 5 worst starts for a player's career in MLB history gives you a lot of room for growth. Gotta keep things in perspective when you throw stuff like that around.

      I hope tonight was the start of a really solid career for him. If these first two months, where everyone was worried about team control, are the launching pad for a great career. Screw the extra year of service, this investment will be more than worth it.
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      Hicks started switch-hitting because of how his father's basball career pretty much ended. His dad, a RH hitter, took one to the head and was never the same. His dad taught him how to hit left-handed so he could lessen the risk of the same thing happening to his son.
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