• Aaron Hicks and Rebounding

    Most Twins fans will recall that Torii Hunter was a vital part of Minnesota's turnaround and success in the 2000s, from his breakout season in '01 through his departure in '07.

    It's a little tougher to remember the beginning of Hunter's major-league career, which was far less glamorous. After drawing a handful of appearances with the Twins in 1997 and '98, Hunter made the full-time leap as a 22-year-old in 1999. During his first two seasons, he hit .267/.313/.393 with 14 homers in 234 games. He was demoted back to Triple-A in his second year. He looked overwhelmed.

    Hunter rebounded after returning from his demotion in 2000, raising his OPS from .543 in late July to .726 at season's end. Since then, he has never finished with a mark below .762. He's been above .800 nine times (so far) and appeared in five All-Star games (so far).

    In other words, Aaron Hicks shouldn't get too dispirited over his rocky big-league debut in 2013.

    To be fair, Hicks' numbers (.192/.259/.338) are much uglier than Hunter's during his initial rough patch. However, Hunter was playing in a stronger offensive environment, so in context the difference is not as vast as it might appear (Hunter's OPS+ was 76; Hicks finished last year at 65).

    Both Hunter and Hicks entered the majors as athletic young center fielders with great promise. Both exhibited the type of tentative plate approach and proneness to mistakes that are typical of inexperienced rookies. So Hunter's ability to endure and put together a hell of a career should serve as an inspiration for Hicks and a placation for disenchanted fans.

    Then again, while the situations are similar in a general sense, there are certainly more red flags in the case of Hicks.

    Whereas Hunter was a visibly raw specimen who had struggled at times with controlling the strike zone in the minors, Hicks was touted as a polished product. But during his initial stint in the majors, his plate discipline -- a calling card throughout the minors -- was nowhere to be found. The rookie struck out at a much higher rate last year than Hunter has at any point in his career.

    In addition, Hicks did not respond as well (or at least as immediately) to his demotion. When Hunter was sent down in 2000 following a poor start to his sophomore campaign, he absolutely raked in Triple-A, putting up a 1.130 OPS in 55 games to earn a recall. He hit far better in the second half with the Twins and the rest is history.

    Hicks didn't experience the same kind of success following his demotion last year. He went to Rochester, hit .222/.317/.333 in 22 games, was not recalled in September and then skipped winter ball. It was about as bad a season as one could possibly imagine, and it left a sour aftertaste.

    But the bottom line with Hunter, and countless other players, is that early struggles at the highest level are hardly a death knell. That's especially true when you're talking about a 23-year-old who skipped Triple-A on his way to the bigs, as Hicks did.

    Patience is key. Yet the Twins can't and won't exercise endless patience. By this time next year, Byron Buxton may already be entrenched as the long-term center fielder, and there are plenty of emerging contenders to fill the corner spots. If Hicks is unable to bounce back quickly and reestablish himself as an organizational fixture, he could easily be passed up by other outfielders in a crowded system.

    That will make him one of the most intriguing players to keep an eye on in the early part of the 2014 season.
    This article was originally published in blog: Aaron Hicks and Rebounding started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 68 Comments
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      In my Best Quotes article yesterday, I included Hicks' comments about not playing winter ball. Needed a break. Mentally as much as physically. Didn't want to jump from such a bad place right in another season. I tend to agree. Needed to clear his mind.
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      I think I've posted this before in other threads on Aaron Hicks but if you throw out those awful first ten games, he still put up odd looking numbers but for the OPS buff, they were at least "ok" April 15th - July 31st.

      .222/.290/.397/.687

      He still had a 3 - 1 K/BB ratio which sucks but he put some power out there took a few more walks and at least made some contact. It wouldn't take a lot for him to switch that to a 260/.330/.420 line. A little more discipline and a little more luck on BABIP could get him there. I'm confident he'll be much better this year. May never be an allstar but I think he can at least be a solid role player.

      .222 .290 .397 .687
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      Also, Denard Span's OPS over the past four years is .703 to give a little context.
    1. James's Avatar
      James -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Well, I was on this board, which has mixed feelings about everything right down to what day it is today. If you ask around I'm sure you'll find someone who has very strong feelings about the Julian calendar.
      First of all, the Julian calendar is highly overrated...

      I know that we're all hoping Hicks turns it around this year. I saw a lot of games that he played in last year (more than I probably want to admit). Hicks definitely showed flashes last year. I'm expecting a rebound from him this year. I'm not saying he's going to be a MVP candidate next year, but I'm expecting him to kick it up closer to his minor league numbers next year.
    1. JP3700's Avatar
      JP3700 -
      I feel that Hicks was put in a position to fail from the start. Not only did he skip AAA, but he was thrust right into the leadoff spot. Hitting leadoff may not seem like much, but to a young kid who likely isn't even ready for the big leagues, it's additional pressure.

      His slash line in the leadoff spot was .047/.109/.047 (.156 OPS) with a 43% K rate. I'm sure a lot of that had to do with adjusting to the league along with facing the likes of Verlander(as some pointed out), but I don't think the additional pressure of leading off helped.

      When moved down in the lineup his OPS hovered around .700 and his K rate dropped under 25%.

      I think Hicks will be an above average player for years to come with some good years in his prime. His K% will always keep his batting average down, but his skill set of speed, defense, power and plate discipline will make him quite valuable.

      .240/.320/.400 with 20+ SB and plus defense(especially at a corner) is about what I'd expect from him.

      I think the perfect comp to Hicks is Chris Young. They have an almost identical skill set. They also both struggle against RH pitching and mash LH pitching.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by JP3700 View Post
      I think the perfect comp to Hicks is Chris Young. They have an almost identical skill set. They also both struggle against RH pitching and mash LH pitching.
      I like this comp for accuracy and the insight behind it. But I'm not sure I'm encouraged that it's the right comp......
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      In my Best Quotes article yesterday, I included Hicks' comments about not playing winter ball. Needed a break. Mentally as much as physically. Didn't want to jump from such a bad place right in another season. I tend to agree. Needed to clear his mind.
      After the catastrophe that was 2013, I don't blame him. Sometimes, the best "fix" for a problem is to sit back and reflect on it for a bit. Continuing to hammer your head against the wall isn't a good solution.
    1. ND-Fan's Avatar
      ND-Fan -
      I think he should start at triple A again this year and bring him up soon as he shows that he his ready for majors also keep expectations off him when he arrives. I still think he play into twins future as corner outfield if he can bring same numbers he has from minors to majors. He with Buxton in outfield would make it one of very good defensive outfields and will help cover for Arcia who will be in the outfield but will be playing more for his bat than his defensive abilities. With Hicks and Buxton the centerfielder can cheat more to position that Arcia is in because Hicks could cover the gap left by cheating the other way for Arcia. I think if Hicks develops numbers he has in minors he will be one of better outfielders in the Majors.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Disagreeing with the group-think syndrome--Hicks wasn't rushed! He spent nearly 5 full years in the Twins system before April 2013. This is like any college athlete including a red-shirt season. Rookies in any sport typically struggle--and we should expect it--irrespective of how many years are spent in "developmental leagues". There is something of a "Rookie hazing" in MLB (other sports too)--many a "close" pitch was a called strike for Hicks. Hicks' difficulties were magnified by batting him leadoff and being "encouraged" to take pitches, to work the count (and the pitcher). I am convinced Hicks would have performed much better if slotted 8th or 9th in the lineup rather than 1st.

      Other indications about Hicks and his "struggles". Hicks was assigned to extended Spring training (in his first full-season) to convert him to a switch-hitter. This should have been noticed as a huge red flag, that hicks really wasn't an heir apparent to Hunter. Hicks was a 1st round choice. If there was (is!) a problem with breaking balls from RHPs, it should have been noticed before he was drafted--and be fully incorporated in his pre-draft evaluation. Ergo, Hicks was over evaluated and likely shouldn't have been a first round selection. To me, there were plenty of indicators that Hicks would struggle at first, especially when tasked as a leadoff hitter, and Hicks knowing full well that Buxton was deemed "the future". There is also way too much faith in experience at Rochester as a precursor to success at Minnesota especially in light of the numerous examples of "struggling players" to outright flops that have come through the Twins system.

      Finally, (signals end of my rant!) Hunter wasn't an example of an "overwhelmed player" examined the stated statistics of the article. Hunter was "disciplined"--and he responded with the hoped-for ferocity in his performance when he wasted restored to the active roster. Hicks would be an example of "overwhelmed", but not Hunter.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Hicks began switch-hitting in high school.
    1. Dave T's Avatar
      Dave T -
      Quote Originally Posted by Linus View Post
      ...His future is not in a corner outfield spot as he will likely never produce offensively enough to realize maximum value or highest and best use.
      Offensively, I agree. I still think he has a chance to stick as a corner outfielder because of his superb defensive skills. The Twins signed three new starting pitchers (plus Pelfrey) who pitch to contact, and the Twins will need the best defense they can put on the field in order to keep opponents from scoring.
    1. savvyspy's Avatar
      savvyspy -
      Hicks would be the best defensive outfielder on the roster right now and I would argue the 2nd best overall outfielder on the roster behind Arcia. So he had a bad half season. Its not like this team is stocked with offensive weapons. Cripes, Dozier hits .245 and people are calling him the next Joe Morgan. Give the kid a chance and he'll bounce back. I'll give you that he got off to a horrendous start but he was actually starting to stabilze when they sent him down. Its WAY too soon to cut bait with Hicks.
    1. JP3700's Avatar
      JP3700 -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      I like this comp for accuracy and the insight behind it. But I'm not sure I'm encouraged that it's the right comp......
      Shouldn't be discouraged. Chris Young was/is an above average baseball player. Perhaps he is in decline, but his last six years he's been worth 13.7 WAR. I'd take that kind of value out of Hicks.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by JP3700 View Post
      Shouldn't be discouraged. Chris Young was/is an above average baseball player. Perhaps he is in decline, but his last six years he's been worth 13.7 WAR. I'd take that kind of value out of Hicks.
      Good comp in many ways, but I think even that might be shooting high. Similar timeline, but Young hit 32 homers in his age-23 season as a rookie compared to what Hicks did last year. Hicks will never have as much power, but might post some better OBPs in time. If he ends up pushed to a corner due to Buxton, it's hard to see Hicks' bat profiling well in a corner (despite some great D, I'm assuming). I'd be happy to see like 2/3 of that WAR total...
    1. JP3700's Avatar
      JP3700 -
      Quote Originally Posted by jay View Post
      Good comp in many ways, but I think even that might be shooting high. Similar timeline, but Young hit 32 homers in his age-23 season as a rookie compared to what Hicks did last year. Hicks will never have as much power, but might post some better OBPs in time. If he ends up pushed to a corner due to Buxton, it's hard to see Hicks' bat profiling well in a corner (despite some great D, I'm assuming). I'd be happy to see like 2/3 of that WAR total...
      I agree that Young has more power. That's why I had Hicks' isoP at .160 in my projection compared to Young's .196 career isoP.

      If that projection holds true, once you factor in park adjustment and run scoring environment, they'd come out to be similar players.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      What about De Aza as a comp? Similar age/level progression, similar early struggles, similar BB/K profiles. Hicks probably has a hint more power.
    1. Steve Penz's Avatar
      Steve Penz -
      He may rebound and have a nice career at CF but it will be on another team. Unfortunately for Hicks I feel his window is closing too quickly. Buxton could move up quickly enough to only give Hicks short time as a starter. Additionally, his bat does not seem powerful enough to play a corner outfield spot. My hope is that he rebounds so he has the highest trade value because he will be on the blocks by sometime in 2015.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Penz View Post
      He may rebound and have a nice career at CF but it will be on another team. Unfortunately for Hicks I feel his window is closing too quickly. Buxton could move up quickly enough to only give Hicks short time as a starter. Additionally, his bat does not seem powerful enough to play a corner outfield spot. My hope is that he rebounds so he has the highest trade value because he will be on the blocks by sometime in 2015.
      Exactly! I think that Hicks should be extended the opportunity to prove himself as a good, everyday MLB CF, so he can be traded for some real value. The Revere trade was based on a huge need to immediately address the weakness in the rotation. Given the FA pitchers signed, and the other pitching "prospects" gleaned the past two years, the Twins can focus on needs elsewhere. Or, a trade of Hicks (assuming he succeeds as a CF) and other Twins prospect(s) for a high-quality veteran at a position (even SP!) of need.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I wouldn't rule out a corner job. He has the raw power. If he improves his pitch selection, he could be a decent corner guy, with his glove and arm as value adds.
    1. crarko's Avatar
      crarko -
      I tell you, the one thing I don't want to see is Hicks become the next Carlos Gomez, going on to shine elsewhere because we gave up on him a couple years too soon. Patience am good (tm).
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