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Bright Futures: #3 - Aaron Hicks

My “Bright Futures” series is nearing an end, and as we wind down to the top spot in the Twins farm system, who will it be? While anticipating who will be revealed as the top dog in the Twins system, check out the other top prospects listed below!

Ever since I can remember, the Minnesota Twins have had an outfielder patrolling the turf/grass of the Metrodome/Target Field that possessed skills their counterparts envied, a work ethic rivaling none other, and most importantly, a personality that represented the organization, city, and fan base adequately and efficiently. Players like Kirby Puckett, Torii Hunter, and Denard Span have brought smiles to fans’ faces, launched a few souvenirs into the bleachers, and played harder than any player on the field day in and day out. As Twins fans, we have been spoiled to be able to watch players such as Puckett, Hunter and Span nightly and our expectations will, and should, remain high as the 2013 season creeps up around the corner.

Over the last few seasons, Twins fans have grown accustomed to watching Span hawk over center field and I’m sure many fans believed he would be a Twin for the rest of his playing days. But once Span was traded to the Washington Nationals in late November, the next logical player to fill in the void was going to be the speedster with an infectious personality, Ben Revere. Revere seemed like a great fit: a lead-off type hitter with speed to burn, a web gem seemingly every night, and the type of hustle Twins fans have learned to expect from their favorite team’s players. Whelp, Revere, the answer to Span’s departure, was traded as well in December but to the Philadelphia Phillies. So now what? Who is left to play center field for the Twins in 2013? No worries Twins fans, there is a young man who has the necessary requirements needed to fit in with the names of Puckett, Hunter and Span.

 

 

This tweet above was re-tweeted by who could potentially be the starting center fielder for the Twins this upcoming season, and his name is Aaron Hicks. Clearly, anyone could simply hit the “re-tweet” button on Twitter and accept this as a new life mantra, but for Hicks, this might be something he could look at and own it… yes, he could be that good.

Hicks has always been expected to take over the center field position early in his career, even from being drafted 14th overall by the Twins in the 2008 MLB Draft. MLB.com‘s prospect guru, Johnathan Mayo, detailed why Hicks is a name to look for in the coming years back in his 2008 draft report (link to article). Noting his plus, plus arm, fluid athleticism which allows for effortless tracking of fly balls, and his raw hitting tools, Mayo broke down why he was worth a first round choice but also explained what sometimes happens to “toolsy” athletic players:

Hicks is one of the more athletic outfielders in the high school ranks and perhaps in the Draft class. How high he gets drafted depends on how highly people project what he can become. He’s got a ton of tools, but will he learn how to use them? Someone is sure to take that chance.

Regardless of some “toolsy” player tendencies, the Twins still selected him in the first round in 2008 with hopes of taking over for Torii Hunter when his time was up in Minnesota. At first, many believed he could be a “fast track” kind of prospect who flies through the levels of professional ball and inevitably lands himself as a mainstay on the Major League roster early on in his career. However, some of the fears of his raw hitting skills were showing up in the stat sheet as he began his career. In his first season in Low-A Beloit in 2009, Hicks started out the gate slow, and never really picked up steam while posting a slash of .251/.353/.382. Those numbers were not awful by any means, but for a speedster with gap-to-gap power, his on-base percentage was quite low and needed to be raised before warranting a promotion to the next level. In fact, that promotion did not come until 2011 when the former first round draft pick was 21-years-old.

Once making the jump to High-A Ft. Myers, Hicks’ offensive numbers sank even further, resulting in a slash of .242/.354/.368. Generally, numbers that low would not motivate a team to push the player onward to the next level, but coming up on 22-years-old and still playing in High-A was not a good scenario for the organization or Hicks to be in. Despite the low 2011 numbers, the Twins indeed promoted Hicks to Double-A New Britain in hopes that his offense would catch up to his defensive prowess.

After a few regrettable seasons in the Single-A leagues, Hicks took advantage of the promotion to Double-A by posting his most impressive numbers yet as a professional. In a season hiccuped by a broken hamate bone, he was still able to hit .286, with 13 home runs, 11 triples and 31 stolen bases, in 129 games in New Britain. Hicks’ success was immediate and in an interview with Ben Goessling of the Pioneer Press newspaper in the Twin Cities (link to article), he attributed much of his success to conversations he had with his friend, Denard Span. Span answered any question young Hicks had, especially on how to stay back on the changeup which was exceptionally troubling for the young outfielder:

I could pretty much ask him whatever I was struggling with, and he’d tell me what the answer was… I never really just stayed back (on the changeup) to hit it to left, (Denard) talked to me about staying on the ball, staying back (in my stance), and it really helped out.

The relationship between Hicks and Span was pretty well documented as the veteran, Span, passed down any information he could to the unseasoned California native. But now that the mentor has been dealt elsewhere, it is time for the apprentice to step up and be the player he and the Twins believe he can be. I’m looking forward to watching Hicks play in Minnesota; he’s super athletic, has a cannon of an arm, and provides just enough pop to make others respect his power. Even if he struggles at times his rookie season, Hicks’ defense and speed will never slump, and those attributes alone could be enough to punch his one-way ticket to the show.

Projection: Aaron Hicks is an athletic specimen. His speed and arm have and still are rated plus plus, which will be quite entertaining to watch as he throws out guys on the bases as well as make long runs to track down seemingly unreachable fly balls. At one point his arm was clocked at 95 MPH which had some considering drafting him as a pitcher rather than an outfielder, but his athleticism seems more valuable in the field and on the base-paths. Hicks’ approach at the plate is quite advanced for someone his age, but sometimes he will take too many pitches and dig himself in a hole. Span was notorious for being a great 2-strike hitter, perhaps with his teachings, Hicks will be the same. Being a switch-hitter with gap power and the potential for more, his importance in the lineup will depend on his on-base percentage. Eventually I foresee Hicks being a lead-off hitter with some pop to boot, but if he cracks the Twins starting roster, he may start lower in the lineup to ease him into things. Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire have both mentioned Hicks being a viable option to take over in center field this season, bypassing Triple-A altogether, but his Spring Training has yet to be seen. I can see him being the starter on Opening Day though, considering the Twins are in no position to legitimately contend in the AL Central this season, so if Hicks gets knocked around a bit, it will only help him teach him lessons for next year when more young guns are ready to make a bona fide run to the playoffs. So, look forward to watching the Twins center fielder for the next decade (hopefully) in your Opening Day lineup this season if he can impress enough in Spring Training… it will be nice to see that arm in action this season, lord have mercy am I excited to watch him play.

Twitter: You can follow Aaron Hicks on Twitter here! twitter.com/AaronHicks31. Pictures courtesy of Steve Lein, follow him on Twitter as well! twitter.com/MNTwinsGUFS

 

 

Tags: Aaron Hicks Minnesota Twins

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