“For me, (2013) is in the past. Last year is last year. I want to focus on this year and be able to be the guy I know I can be.” Those were the words of Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks last month at Twins Fest.
A year ago at this time, the Minnesota Twins had traded its two centerfielders, Denard Span and Ben Revere. Aaron Hicks was coming off a season at AA New Britain in which he hit .286/.384/.460 (.844) with 21 doubles, 11 triples, 13 home runs and had 32 stolen bases as a 22 year old. The Twins were touting his athleticism and talent from Twins Fest until spring training. Hicks then put up tremendous numbers in spring training and won the starting centerfield job. After that, little positive occurred for the 23 year old.
Hicks was the Twins first round pick (14th
overall) in 2008 out of high school in California. Four times, he was listed among the Top 100 prospects in baseball. Heading into the 2013 season, he was ranked #72 and a top five in the Twins system.
He has a history of getting off to a slow start at each level. However, he has also shown the ability overcome the struggles and succeed with time. That just didn’t happen with the Twins in 2013. In 313 plate appearances over 81 games, he hit .192/.239/.338 (.597) and struck out almost 27% of the time. Late in the year, he was sent down to Rochester where he fought injuries the rest of the season.
“Of course it bothered me. Normally, it takes a while for me to respond to the competition and then I respond. This year, I’m ready to respond. I know what I did wrong. I did everything this offseason to put it all together to have a better year this year.”
After the season, there was talk about the Twins wanting Hicks to play winter ball. However, Hicks thought the right thing for him to do was to take time off during the offseason. “I thought a little about it, but I felt like it would be better for me to relax and think about stuff I need to do and get ready for another season rather than go right into another season. Really, just rest the body up. I’ve never had an offseason before. I’ve always played somewhere. It felt good to just relax.”
Instead, Hicks did a few things to make himself better, mentally and physically. “I’ve just been mainly working out. I got a little heavier, trying to get a little bit stronger to do what I can to make the team again. And to be the guy I know I am.”
He got bigger. “I’m 210 now. I think I came in last year at about 200. I just felt like I wanted to be stronger, to be able to generate more power.”
He also continued to work out with and confide in a pretty solid baseball man. Who is the guy that he goes to when he’s struggling? “For me, it’d be (Rod) Carew because he’s been with me since AA and actually before that. He’ll ask me questions about little stuff and he really helps me out a lot.”
He said that the two worked out and hit about three days each week, and sometimes on the weekend depending on their schedules.
He also had time to think about what happened in 2013. “This game is so crazy that you can be hot one day or hot for two weeks and all of a sudden it can be like you’ve never hit before. It just happened. Maybe going to AAA helped me clear my mind and be able to just play, just enjoy playing the game. I felt like up here maybe I was trying to do too much.”
Baseball is a game full of second chances. Hicks will compete with Alex Presley and Darin Mastroianni (who was removed from the 40-man roster this offseason) for the starting centerfield job for Opening Day 2014.
So what are his thoughts as spring training is approaching? What is he expecting of himself this year? “I’m expecting to try to win a job again, just like last year. Hopefully it’s in the big leagues. If I go to AAA, do what I can to get back here.”
It is also fair to note that Hicks better understands spring training after his 2013 season. “Spring training is different than the big leagues. I need to be focused and understand that it’s a process. It’s not just going to be easy for me. You’re going to have to take your lumps here and there. It was also a good learning experience, that it’s a grind every day.”
Hicks knows that Byron Buxton is coming up quickly, but the two have a good relationship. “We don’t really ever talk baseball. I’m just trying to get used to him. If I can, give him a little bit of wisdom here and there. He’s been doing pretty good, so I’m just going to leave him alone.”
Aaron Hicks will be just 24 through the 2014 season, but it is still a big year for him. At some point during the season, he will get another opportunity with the Twins. He plays tremendous defense and has a very strong arm, but will he be able to make adjustments at the plate to put up box score filling numbers again? If so, he still has a chance to be a very good, everyday player.
“I had the worst of it all last year. I understand failure up here. I’d rather go through that and deal with it. Now I know going into this year how to prepare.”