On May 24th the Twins were in San Francisco for the second game of a three game series. Aaron Hicks was the starting center fielder that day and this day would mark a turning point in his career. Whether it was a turning point for the better or for the worse remains to be seen.
Ryan Vogelsong, a right-handed pitcher, was the Giants starter that day. This meant the switch-hitting Hicks was batting left-handed. Hicks struggled on this day, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout. He was removed in the late-innings of the close game for a pinch hitter.
This was the end of Hicks being a switch hitter. A couple days later he entered Ron Gardenhire's office and told him he was done from the left side of the plate. Hicks had been a switch hitter since little league but he lost confidence at the plate and it was time for a change.
Hicks is only 24 years old and the former first round pick was supposed to be the team's center fielder of the future. What does the future hold for Mr. Hicks?
Bait and Switch
Hicks is not that far removed from seemingly putting it all together at Double-A. During the 2012 season, he was a .286/.384/.460 hitter with 13 home runs, 21 doubles and 11 triples. Even from the left side of the plate he had an .828 OPS with 29 extra-base hits. His triple total was a New Britain team record and this gave the Twins plenty of confidence in him moving forward.
In the Eastern League that season, Hicks was almost 2.5 years younger than the other hitters. This made his performance all the more impressive. He made one of the hardest jumps in the minor leagues and compiled the best numbers of his professional career. It was hard to imagine that he would be giving up switch-hitting in a little over a year and a half.
Playing Rushin' Roulette
Twins fans know the tale of Terry Ryan trading away Denard Span and Ben Revere during the same off-season. This meant Hicks was rushed to the big leagues after never seeing a pitch at the Triple-A level. There were plenty of struggles during his rookie season and the Twins sent him down to Rochester to finish out 2013.
He has a grand total of 22 games played in Rochester. The Twins talked about sending him down after he switched away from switch-hitting. At the time, the team didn't really have any other options for center field, so he stayed with the big league club. There have been some positive signs since Hicks gave up switch-hitting. In a very small sample size of 24 plate appearances, he's hit .263/.391/.316 with a double and four walks.
Hicks was put on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to last Tuesday with a right shoulder strain. With Sam Fuld recovered from his concussion, it seems likely that the Twins will send Hicks to Rochester after he's healthy. Minnesota has other options in center field and Hicks needs to spend more time seeing right-handed pitching from the right side of the plate.
Danny Santana has burst onto the scene as a viable fill-in option in center. He's been a lifetime infielder during his time in the Twins organization but his bat has been so hot there is no reason to keep him out of the line-up. Byron Buxton has taken over the title of the center fielder of the future but he's been hurt for most of the year. This could leave a surprise candidate like Eddie Rosario as the center fielder to bridge the gap to Buxton.
Time Will Tell
The career of Hicks is far from over. Players like Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe both struggled in their first tastes of the big leagues. It took them time to develop and now they are both important parts of the current Twins line-up.
Hicks is young and the Twins are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. If he can rekindle some of his Double-A magic in Rochester, the Twins will make sure he is back in Minnesota. Only time will tell when Hicks will make his way back into the Twins starting line-up.