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  • The Mysterious Lost Season of Aaron Hicks

    Aaron Hicks had to be flying high at the conclusion of spring training this season. He had won the starting center fielder job for the Twins and he would be making his big league debut in front of the Target Field faithful. His 2012 minor league campaign was fantastic as he showed much of the promise the Twins had seen in him when they took him as a first round pick.

    The future seemed nothing but bright and there were comparisons being made to some of the best outfielders in the game.

    Those flowery thoughts didn't last long as Hicks struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball. At the end of April, he had a batting line of .113/.229/.127, with a double being his lone extra-base hit. These were tough numbers to swallow, especially with the high expectations coming out of spring training.

    Switching the calendar to May helped Hicks with his power swing but the other numbers didn't follow suit. After one extra-base hit in the first month, he cracked 10 extra-base hits in the second month of the season including six home runs. This raised his slugging percentage almost 200 points from .127 to .315 and it led some to believe that Hicks might have turned the corner.

    Throughout his minor league career, he had been praised as being a patient hitter but ML pitchers were able to attack him at the plate. In the first two months of the season, he struck out 49 times and he was able to coax only 17 walks. Combine his low walk total with the fact that he wasn't hitting the ball all that great and red flags were becoming more obvious.

    June saw Hicks trying to overcome his first extended stay on the DL. He was sent to Triple-A for the first time as part of his rehab and it seemed as though he might have benefitted more by staying at that level. Instead the team brought him back for the start of July and there were a few more baby steps in the right direction.

    Hicks batted .230/.292/.379 after returning from the DL. His batting average and OBP were the highest marks for any month so there were some positive signs. He was able to steal five bases while being caught only once. On the negative side, he struck out 26 times and was limited to six walks. The Twins decided it was time for Hicks to try to succeed at Triple-A; he was sent down for the remainder of Rochester's season.

    Things weren't much better for Hicks in limited action in the minors. For the season, he played 22 games with Rochester and posted a batting line of .222/..317/.333 with six extra-base hits but no home runs. He was able to draw 10 walks but he averaged close to a strikeout a game. There was no shining light at the end of the tunnel.

    Hicks wasn't among the Twins September call-ups and there are plenty of questions surrounding him after his first big league season. Should the Twins give up on Hicks in favor of stud prospect Byron Buxton? What is the future role of Hicks with this team? Will he ever be able to be a consistent hitter at the big league level? Was this a lost season for the former top prospect?

    Everything seemed bright for Hicks under the color of the Florida sun but things quickly turned cold in the brisk Minnesota spring. It will be an offseason of reflection for Mr. Hicks and hopefully a chance to enter next season with the ability to forget what happened in 2013.
    This article was originally published in blog: The Mysterious Lost Season of Aaron Hicks started by Cody Christie
    Comments 44 Comments
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by orangevening View Post
      Please find me anyone, ANYONE who was clamoring for Thomas, Richardson or Ramirez to start in CF over Hicks right after spring training. Yes, people were of the opinion that we shouldn't start Hicks arb time and yes they wanted him to win the job in spring training (and he did). My point is that their decision was easy from their (the FO) point of view. They weren't going to sign a free agent CF and the nobody considered the above players (was Richardson even with the organization then?) a option. Maybe they *should* have, but they were not.
      Way before way before Hicks flopped or Mastro got hurt, the mistake of not having a realistic MLB-capable CF alternative in the organization was discussed in spring training threads. And it didn't have to do with service time for Hicks, it had to do with the fact that Hicks was likely to struggle and very possibly be overmatched.

      The front office blew it, and it didn't take a crystal ball to see it coming.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by howieramone View Post
      But they were not blunders. Hunter, Morneau, and Cuddyer all had missteps when they first came to the bigs. I for one have no problem, when one of our top prospects has absolutely no one in front of them, and our FO takes a calculated risk. Hicks and for that matter Gibson and Arcia, are just that much more ready when their next shot comes.
      We'll see, but let's see if those examples compare. Were any of those players called up mid-season and had as long a run of difficulty as Hicks before being sent down, not to mention skip a level of the minors?

      Morneau was called up in June. Had a 115 PAs of .665 OPS before having success the following season.

      Cuddyer was a Sept. callup and had just 20 PAs where he struggled. The following season .740 OPS in around 100 PAs and posted just under 100 OPS+ for the next few seasons in limited ABs before really coming into his own.

      Hunter made it 20 PAs in April 1998 of OPS+ of 60. He struggled his first two seasons with OPS+ of 73 and 80 before taking off.

      Sure all of them struggled in their first appearance and were even below average for a couple hundered at-bats, but none of them were as historically awful or as bad for as long as Hicks was. (OPS+ of 63 and a sub .600 OPS).

      Gibson and Arcia weren't thrust into the starting lineup day and both spent time at AAA. Gibson's stint was incredibly short, 10 games. Arcia has actually been one of the better hitters on the team.

      Honestly, there's no comparison between any of these players and what the front office expected from and thrust Hicks into. They are absolutely blunders both for the team and him: calling him up when he wasn't even close, leading him off, not getting a major league player who could handle the position, and keeping him up for so long.

      If even these, so clearly mistakes by the FO (remember they said he was READY and put him in the leadoff spot), aren't recognized as such, I really don't see the point of continuing this discussion. I mean, I recognize that there might have been reason to support the FO to start -- that I think is a tenable position even if I disagree with it, but based on the results I don't understand how the move can be defended as the right one.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by howieramone View Post
      But they were not blunders. Hunter, Morneau, and Cuddyer all had missteps when they first came to the bigs. I for one have no problem, when one of our top prospects has absolutely no one in front of them, and our FO takes a calculated risk. Hicks and for that matter Gibson and Arcia, are just that much more ready when their next shot comes.
      Interesting examples. Here's their final steps toward the majors.

      Morneau: Full season of AA bookended by shorter stints there. 300 PA's in AAA.

      Hunter: Most of 2 seasons in AA, 17 premature MLB at bats, followed by time in AAA and AA.

      Cuddyer: Two seasons and >1000 PA's in AA, 18 Sept. callup AB's in the majors. Half a season in AAA before he sniffed the bigs again.

      So none of them really skipped AAA. And none of them regularly exceeded a K rate of 20% throughout the minors like Hicks.

      It's usually a pretty bad idea to ask a ballplayer to keep doing something he can't do. And that's what the Twins were doing by letting Hicks continue to flail against major league pitching, for three months after it was clear he wasn't ready.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      I agree with you, but Gardy has gone on record saying Acria is a better RF than LF.
      But that's really a distinction without a difference though, isn't it?
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