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Twins Fan From Afar

Aaron Hicks to AA New Britain: Too Much, Too Soon?

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[Originally published at Twins Fan From Afar]

Jeff Dooley, the voice of the New Britain Rock Cats, has been blogging about Twins Spring Training. A couple days ago, he stated in the blog that the Rock Cats' 2012 lineup would be headlined by prospect Aaron Hicks. This is generally in agreement with what I heard at the Rock Cats Hot Stove luncheon in January, where Rock Cats manager Jeff Smith suggested that, at some point in 2012, fans in Connecticut would be welcoming Hicks.

Though the promotion is certainly great news for Hicks (and for me, who will get to watch him play a bunch this year), I am wondering if it was the correct move at this moment. Hicks did not receive an invitation to Spring Training this season. Terry Ryan recently stated to Pat Reusse, regarding Hicks: "He didn't have much of a summer. We want the young players to understand that you need a good year -- not a few good weeks -- to be rewarded."

Was Aaron Hicks really ready for the promotion to
AA New Britain?
Those "few weeks" that Ryan referenced were Hicks' solid performance in the Arizona Fall League, where he ended up with a .294/.400/.559 slash line, along with 8 doubles, 5 triples and 3 home runs. Those numbers were encouraging, sure, but were comprised of just over 100 plate appearances. I think it's more important to look at what Hicks did in 2011 at single-A Ft. Myers, where he accumulated a .242/.354/.368 slash line with 110 strikeouts, 78 walks and 5 home runs in 528 plate appearances. If, as Ryan said, the organization doesn't want to reward players with a Spring Training invite (I assume they use Evite or some similar computer program to save on costs) based on a few good weeks of fall baseball, it's strange that Hicks was rewarded with a promotion to double-A on that same basis. It surely can't be based on his 2011 regular season numbers, which do not demonstrate any kind of mastery of single-A, at least with respect to offense. As we learned from the Terry Doyle experiment, success in the AFL doesn't necessarily translate to success at the next level -- whatever that next level is.

Hicks' promotion reminds me, on some levels, of Bryce Harper's recent promotion from double-A to triple-A. If you weren't paying attention to the news, it almost came off like a demotion. After all, some in the Washington Nationals camp thought Harper would begin the season as the Nationals' center fielder. It seems like it will just be a matter of months -- not years -- before Harper sets foot in the nation's capitol permanently, but I think the Nationals got a little ahead of themselves. Harper's line at double-A Harrisburg was .256/.329./.395 over 37 games. That's right, he only played 37 games at double-A. He struck out 26 times, walked 15, and hit 3 home runs, 1 triple and 7 doubles in that time. That hardly qualifies as mastery in my book, but he's on Washington's fast track, for better or worse. Don't get me wrong -- he seems a lock to be a star major league player, but why would it hurt him to bat .300 at Harrisburg before being promoted to AAA or Washington?

Unless there's a staffing emergency such as a sudden opening due to a trade, or a startling lack of depth at a particular position, it seems to me that, especially with respect to top prospects like Harper -- and Hicks -- it's best to have those players succeed at the lower levels before they are promoted. You can still promote players quickly, though. And for the Twins, if there's one position where there is not a staffing emergency or a lack of depth, it's at center field. We know that Hicks' glove is there, and from that defensive standpoint I'm sure he earned the promotion. But the streaky offensive side is alarming. I'd like to see Hicks start of at Ft. Myers and do well there, even if just for a month or two, before coming out to New Britain. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on Hicks. Did he earn the promotion, or should he be spending a bit more time in Ft. Myers to prove that he's ready for the next step offensively?

On a side note, check out my recent post at Through the Fence Baseball, which includes a great picture of Target Field taken by Michael Cuddyer.


  1. wagwan's Avatar
    Hicks though already repeated A ball at Beloit. He can't take 2 years at every stop. I think this is more about it being put up or shut up time. Even if he would shine at Ft.Meyers, it would be a 4th year at single A and mean nothing. He needs to break out NOW
  2. LimestoneBaggy's Avatar
    (I assume they use Evite or some similar computer program to save on costs)
    Classic. Can't say I disagree, but wondering if the Twins are looking to see if Hicks can develop now, or come up with a change in switch hitting (or very unlikley, check out his arm)?
  3. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
    Thanks for the comments, and I think you're both right in the sense that the Twins are telling Hicks that this is his basically his make-or-break season. Considering he was our #1 prospect a few years ago, however, I'd prefer to see the on-the-field reason to promote him, rather than just the explanation that he's played too much low and high-A ball.
  4. Seth Stohs's Avatar
    They can tell Hicks it's a make-or-break year, but it's not. He'll be added to the 40 man roster after the season and have 3 more option years. The goal shouldn't be to get him to the big leagues as fast as possible, but that when he gets there, he's ready to contribute.
  5. LaBombo's Avatar
    After 4 seasons of pro ball, Aaron Hicks was still overmatched in high A. He's not a star in the making.

    He's still trying to switch hit, as far as I know, despite not being able to hit left-handed. It's probably wrong to promote him, but so what? They're not hampering the development of a future switch-hitting star center fielder. They're making a small mistake with the career progression of a right-handed hitting 4th OF who can handle center field. Not going to be losing any sleep over that one, especially with Benson starting the year in AAA. and with all the genuine disasters inflicted on the franchise during Bill Smith's four year reign of terror.
  6. John Bonnes's Avatar
    It's certainly a fair question.

    Fort Myers (and the league it is in) is known for holding down offensive numbers, right? I wonder if they just want to get him into a different environment, maybe a little more offensive and maybe facing pitchers with a little better control to see if they can get him to swing more. But I think you're right that it doesn't looks like he's earned anything yet.
  7. jorgenswest's Avatar
    Maybe he will need to be more aggressive against better pitching in AA. Let's find out.
    Updated 03-28-2012 at 09:05 PM by jorgenswest
  8. jorgenswest's Avatar
    Just some other performances at Fort Myers to consider. I looked for players the Twins drafted out of high school that eventually had success in the majors. They may have spent more time at Fort Myers but this is their season before moving to AA. Seth probably will find obvious players that I have missed.

    Player, age, OPS
    Hunter, 20, .678
    Morneau, 20, .821
    Cuddyer, 20, .873
    Span, 21, .813
    Kubel, 21, .761
    Mauer, 20, .807 (half season)
    Hicks, 21, .722

    Hicks' performance is topped by everyone but Hunter. Hunter is also the most similar in tools. I agree with those that advocate for moving him up and see how he responds.
    Updated 03-28-2012 at 11:33 PM by jorgenswest
  9. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
    jorgenswest, these numbers above are OPS I hope (assume) or what?
  10. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
    They must be OPS.
  11. drivlikejehu's Avatar
    New Britain is a pitcher's park too. I'm not sure it really makes all that much difference where he starts... maybe the Twins see AA as a way to challenge Hicks but also show some confidence in him. If they think that helps a bit I don't see anything wrong with it.
  12. Shane Wahl's Avatar
    I think Hicks during the second half of 2011 may have put up identical numbers in AA as he did in A+. The issue is that he doesn't swing the damn bat enough. His defense and his Isolated Discipline can push him up and up. I would be shocked if he doesn't improve significantly from 2011 Fort Myers. One reason is 2011 AFL--I understand that it is a hitters' league, but it is a hitters' league for AA/AAA prospects. The second reason is that the tools are slowly becoming skills and his development is there now.
  13. James Richter's Avatar
    I like that they're challenging him. I doon't think of the AFL as a small sample size. Instead, I include it in the larger sample size. Combining the AFL with A+ gives Hicks a .251/.361/.404 line over nearly 650 PA in 2011. The average FSL player had a .716 OPS last year. Hicks' .959 OPS in the AFL was 13th best in the league, 7th best among players with more than 100 PA. It's a hitters league, but he was less experienced than most of the guys in it and he showed he could be dominant. If he falls on his face at AA, they can always bust him back to Fort Myers for a little while like they did with Parmelee and Benson. That seems to have worked out OK.
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