• 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. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      While I agree you would look for a power bat to man a corner outfield spot, that's typically because many of those power bats profile so bad defensively, they can't play anywhere else. In the case of Hicks, he might never be a 20+ HR hitter (though he showed flashes of power that make it seem possible if not likely), I wonder at the reasoning that his bat won't be good enough for a corner. He profiles as a potential higher OBP guy, something this team desperately needs at the moment. It almost feels like people are falling into the same stereotypes that Gardy gets mocked for frequently, deciding that certain positions are supposed to be certain types of hitters.

      Until last season, Hicks' worst seasons were still a .722 and .735 OPS, and the rest were above .800, and even those two "bad" seasons included an OBP of over .350. Would it really be so horrible to have a .750 OPS'ing corner outfielder who had an OBP over .350 and enough speed to take/steal extra bases occasionally? I'm not trying to predict that's the hitter he will be, but I don't find it particularly far-fetched to think he could. If that included well-above average defense for the position as well, why is that not good enough? To me, I would see an Alex Gordon with a little less power, a little more discipline, and that's a good baseball player.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      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.
      I think the term "was" is important. Of that 13.7 WAR - 9 of it came in two seasons. Meaning he was roughly a 1 WAR player the other four. I know it's not fair to discharge those seasons, but the WAR total is a bit misleading if you don't parse it out a bit.

      I had higher hopes for Hicks than a 1-2 WAR player and maybe his peak will look like those two outliers for Young. I'm just not sure about that.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I recall reading on Fangraphs that no one had ever started that badly and become good, but that could have been an offhand comment on a chat.....and not analysis......

      I agree with Brock. I have no idea what is happening next with him. But I still wish he had quit switch hitting two years ago. I think he'd be a good MLB player already.
    1. JP3700's Avatar
      JP3700 -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      I think the term "was" is important. Of that 13.7 WAR - 9 of it came in two seasons. Meaning he was roughly a 1 WAR player the other four. I know it's not fair to discharge those seasons, but the WAR total is a bit misleading if you don't parse it out a bit.

      I had higher hopes for Hicks than a 1-2 WAR player and maybe his peak will look like those two outliers for Young. I'm just not sure about that.
      His discrepancy in WAR is heavily weighted by how his defense was measured those years. In his two superstar years he was out of this world good defensively. In his down years he was a negative defender. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, so it all balances out. He was probably closer to league average his down years and just a star his two breakout years.

      Either way, I'd take the total value anyway I can get it. Whether it be a consistent 2+ WAR a year or two superstar level years mixed in with some mediocre years.

      The Diamondbacks got 14.7 WAR over his 6+ years of team control. I'd take that with just about any prospect.
    1. Linus's Avatar
      Linus -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dave T View Post
      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.
      The point is not whether he can play a corner outfield spot - clearly he can. The point is what course of action brings the Twins the greatest return on this asset. My contention is that he is more valuable as center fielder trade chip than staying in Minnesota and playing a corner spot, especially with corner outfielders in the pipeline. Good centerfielders are much more valuable than good corner outfielders.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      Good article, Nick. People forget how mediocre Hunter was at the beginning of his career. Actually, his minor league career was mediocre as well. He didn't really hit outstandingly in the minors until he was sent back to the minors after being in the majors for more than a year. I remember thinking that Hunter wasn't going to be more than a 4th outfielder. He really wasn't very good defensively either, Kelly played him in leftfield for awhile.

      Even after Hunter was established, he really wasn't all that consistent. His season numbers always looked OK but it was generally a hot month in the middle of the season that made them look pretty good. What this indicates about Hicks, I don't know. There are some similarities and Hicks has demonstrated much better plate discipline in the minors than Hunter ever did. I don't that agree that the Twins should have forced him to quick switch hitting either. I just think the Twins and fans should be more patient with him. I think he will be pretty good, eventually, it just might take a few years.

      One last point, most posters on this site did indeed want Hicks to go north last spring. There were very few who actually posted that he should be sent to AAA. It wasn't just the Twins who thought his spring indicated that he was ready for the majors.
    1. shs_59's Avatar
      shs_59 -
      Quote Originally Posted by troyhobbs View Post
      Hicks earned an opening day start by having the best ST out of the entire roster. You really would have started him in AAA and had Clete Thomas as the opening day CF? They did bat him lead off way too long and probably should have demoted him sooner but he's got skills, he should be at least OK at some point in the near future with a lot of upside.

      THanks for the question hobbs.

      Absolutely! I would of started him in AAA Rochester if he mashed in ST, if he didn't hit very well in Spring Trainging I would of sent him to AA New Britian.

      Hicks could of hitt better than he did in ST, and I still would of sent him to the minors. Spring Training stats = almost nothing as they are a tiny sample size against inferrior competition (often times)

      Plus if i recall, Hicks hitt 4 HR's in spring, 3 of them in one wind blown game.

      Hopefully the Twins have learned their lesson.


      Now looking ahead to 2014, Where will Hicks start now AA , AAA ? It has to be the latter , but you JUST HOPE that his confidence isn't completely shattered and we have Joe Benson 2.0 on our hands.

      Thats why i couldn't believe the lack of patience with so many people on here, regarding Hicks and other young players... when we weren't going to compete last year anyways.


      Little frustrating.


      I think Dozier was slightly rushed, and possibly Arcia, although we've handeled that much better.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by shs_59 View Post
      THanks for the question hobbs.

      Absolutely! I would of started him in AAA Rochester if he mashed in ST, if he didn't hit very well in Spring Trainging I would of sent him to AA New Britian.

      Hicks could of hitt better than he did in ST, and I still would of sent him to the minors. Spring Training stats = almost nothing as they are a tiny sample size against inferrior competition (often times)

      Plus if i recall, Hicks hitt 4 HR's in spring, 3 of them in one wind blown game.

      Hopefully the Twins have learned their lesson.


      Now looking ahead to 2014, Where will Hicks start now AA , AAA ? It has to be the latter , but you JUST HOPE that his confidence isn't completely shattered and we have Joe Benson 2.0 on our hands.

      Thats why i couldn't believe the lack of patience with so many people on here, regarding Hicks and other young players... when we weren't going to compete last year anyways.


      Little frustrating.


      I think Dozier was slightly rushed, and possibly Arcia, although we've handeled that much better.
      I understand the frustration, but I know this is among the least predictable things in baseball. You consider all the data available and make a decision, hoping it works out. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by ericchri View Post
      Until last season, Hicks' worst seasons were still a .722 and .735 OPS, and the rest were above .800, and even those two "bad" seasons included an OBP of over .350. Would it really be so horrible to have a .750 OPS'ing corner outfielder who had an OBP over .350 and enough speed to take/steal extra bases occasionally? I'm not trying to predict that's the hitter he will be, but I don't find it particularly far-fetched to think he could. If that included well-above average defense for the position as well, why is that not good enough? To me, I would see an Alex Gordon with a little less power, a little more discipline, and that's a good baseball player.
      If he's putting up a .350+ OBP and great defense, that's obviously good enough to play. The issue people are pointing out is that's hardly likely. Developing into a .320ish OBP and .720 OPS in LF or RF? That's fringe starter/4th outfielder territory, even with good defense.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Hicks is a fantastic physical specimen, highly intelligent, works his butt off, arm like a rocket, fast as heck, courageous to a fault in center field.

      I feel pretty good about his prospects for improving at the plate. He's known to be coachable, and he's got some pretty serious experts to help him figure it out. Chances are good.
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      Quote Originally Posted by jay View Post
      If he's putting up a .350+ OBP and great defense, that's obviously good enough to play. The issue people are pointing out is that's hardly likely. Developing into a .320ish OBP and .720 OPS in LF or RF? That's fringe starter/4th outfielder territory, even with good defense.
      I guess the point is moreso people are making conjectures about his bat now when honestly we don't really have an idea how good a hitter he's going to be yet. Yeah, his first MLB season was horrible, but somehow that translates into he can never be a good hitter? He has the potential (yes, potential, not a prediction of anything specific) to be a much better hitter than people are giving him credit for. Didn't we just do this with Dozier a year ago? Let's let him find his place as a major leaguer, see what kind of hitter he actually becomes, before we declare he can or can't play a corner outfield position.

      I do agree with some in that if he finds himself as a hitter, he may be more valuable as CF trade bait than manning a corner for the Twins, but let's find out who he is first.
    1. SouthDakotaFarmer's Avatar
      SouthDakotaFarmer -
      I can't remember where are read/heard this, but a few months ago rumor had it that Hicks has benn playing golf all day and everyday this winter. I love me some golf, but back when I played ball in college, if I spent to much time golfing, it would really screw with my baseball swing. Obviously there is a reason I'm sitting on my couch at age 30 and not playing baseball anymore, but does this argument hold merit? I hope I dreamed this up and didn't actually read or hear it.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Quote Originally Posted by ericchri View Post
      I guess the point is moreso people are making conjectures about his bat now when honestly we don't really have an idea how good a hitter he's going to be yet. Yeah, his first MLB season was horrible, but somehow that translates into he can never be a good hitter? He has the potential (yes, potential, not a prediction of anything specific) to be a much better hitter than people are giving him credit for. Didn't we just do this with Dozier a year ago? Let's let him find his place as a major leaguer, see what kind of hitter he actually becomes, before we declare he can or can't play a corner outfield position.

      I do agree with some in that if he finds himself as a hitter, he may be more valuable as CF trade bait than manning a corner for the Twins, but let's find out who he is first.
      His track record in the minors shows he's struggled with RH pitchers his entire professional career. Just because he struggled in his first stint doesn't make worry... the fact he got completely blown away makes me worry. His numbers started to look better when he started facing more LH pitchers. His splits are .559 to .713. I don't hold out much hope for improving beyond just being bad from that side.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by ericchri View Post
      Didn't we just do this with Dozier a year ago? Let's let him find his place as a major leaguer, see what kind of hitter he actually becomes, before we declare he can or can't play a corner outfield position.

      I do agree with some in that if he finds himself as a hitter, he may be more valuable as CF trade bait than manning a corner for the Twins, but let's find out who he is first.
      Maybe we read this thread differently, but I've seen it as pretty positive given how last year went for Aaron. There was exactly one post saying he won't play a corner which was later clarified as saying he'd just be more valuable in CF.

      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      His track record in the minors shows he's struggled with RH pitchers his entire professional career. Just because he struggled in his first stint doesn't make worry... the fact he got completely blown away makes me worry. His numbers started to look better when he started facing more LH pitchers. His splits are .559 to .713. I don't hold out much hope for improving beyond just being bad from that side.
      His splits last year in MLB looked especially bad, but the sample size isn't huge. I was really surprised his MiLB splits weren't as bad as I was expecting. MiLB splits: .813 vs LH, .755 vs RH. http://minorleaguecentral.com/player...305&split=3000

      When you look at average splits across MLB, that's almost exactly what you would expect for a righty who hits lefties better. If he was .813 vs LH, you'd expect roughly 7% worse vs RH for .756. You'd hope for a switch hitter to be more neutral, but at least he's not showing a bigger split than you'd expect anyway. That's a big knock against the "quit switch-hitting" wagon that I wasn't expecting to find. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/basic...its-2002-2012/
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      That doesn't cover prior to 2011. I feel like it would tell a different story if it did. I might be wrong (happened exactly once), but his struggles are well documented. Nothing points to this being a fluke. His advanced stats (LD% being my favorite) shows he just doesn't hit very well from that side. Maybe he figures it out. I'll just leave it at that. Going back and forth about it does no good. I'm one of the strongest advocates to dropping switch hitting, I really don't feel it is as much an advantage as some.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      I recall reading on Fangraphs that no one had ever started that badly and become good, but that could have been an offhand comment on a chat.....and not analysis......
      "No one" and "ever" are big words.
      Check Brian Harper's first 7+1 seasons in the majors or Shane Mack's first 2 seasons in the majors or the aforementioned Carlos Gomez' first 5 seasons in the majors for quick examples (unless you think that these guys were/are not "good"...)
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      what was it about the quote stating that I read it online that mislead you to believe it was my belief? I read it on fangraphs, not sure what you want from me......
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by jay View Post
      If he's putting up a .350+ OBP and great defense, that's obviously good enough to play. The issue people are pointing out is that's hardly likely. Developing into a .320ish OBP and .720 OPS in LF or RF? That's fringe starter/4th outfielder territory, even with good defense.
      Hick's OBP in the minors:

      Year Age Level OBP

      2008 18 Rook 409
      2009 19 Low A 353
      2010 20 Low A 401
      2011 21 High A 354
      2012 22 AA 384

      Last year seems to be an aberration. Given what he did through his AA season as a 22 year old, a 350 OBP is likely. Only those who focus exclusively on 2013 would say it is "hardly likely".
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Hicks was among the most passive hitters in baseball last year. He swung less than 40% of the time. He struckout looking 1 out of every 10 times he came to the plate. He has to become more aggressive, not more passive. The pitching is too good at this level to take a lot of strikes
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Last year seems to be an aberration. Given what he did through his AA season as a 22 year old, a 350 OBP is likely. Only those who focus exclusively on 2013 would say it is "hardly likely".
      Well, no. Those who understand that MiLB performance can't be used to translate directly to MLB performance would say it is "hardly likely", although certain within the realm of "possible".

      Hicks could become that >.350 OBP hitter, but do you think the odds of that are significantly greater than 50% (aka, likely)?
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