Ok, so what if that narrative actually holds some weight in 2015? Despite being a massive what if, the Aaron Hicks the Twins have been waiting for is actually something worth monitoring. Although recent memory hasn’t been kind to the once-promising centerfielder, his background suggests that a turn of the tide could be on the horizon.
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Prior to being called upon as the starting centerfielder entering the 2013 season, Aaron Hicks was a first round draft pick for the Twins. After being selected 14th overall in the 2008 MLB Draft out of high school, it took Hicks little time to show promise. At the rookie ball level with the GCL Twins, Hicks batted .318/.409/491. Over the course of his next four years of minor league ball, Hicks experienced up and down seasons year after year.
In his final season at the Double-A level prior to promotion, Hicks slashed a respectable .286/.384/.460. He struck out 116 times, but also drew 79 walks for the Rock Cats. Outside of his production at the plate, he stole 32 bases while being caught only 11 times. Hicks also was a reliable centerfielder, and his speed allowed him the defensive ability to make a significant impact in the outfield.
Then it happened…
Minnesota chose not to allow Hicks any playing time in September 2012, but instead had him jump from Double-A into the major league starting lineup in 2013. The results were abysmal. Over 81 games in 2013, Aaron Hicks slash just .192/.259/.338. He struck out 84 times and walked in only 24 at-bats. More often than not, Hicks looked lost, confused, and without a plan at the plate. In the field, results were mixed. There were highlight plays, but there were also moments in which former manager Ron Gardenhire publicly called Hicks out for lack of effort, or worse, lack of preparation.
The 2014 season didn’t go much better for Hicks at the major league level. Raising his average to just .215 across 69 games before a demotion back to Double-A. The questions surrounding effort, heart, and preparation arose again. Things began to be going downhill fast for the once prized centerfielder.
And then it happened again…
Following the demotion to Double-A last season, Hicks appeared to turn a corner. 43 games for the Rock Cats saw Hicks slash .297/.404/.466. After being promoted to Triple-A Rochester, Hicks continued to hit to the tune of a .278/.349/.389 slash line. In his final 24 games of the season with the Red Wings, Hicks struck out only 13 times while drawing nine walks. Despite being left off the September call up list, it appeared Aaron Hicks may have finally gotten the Twins message.
Now may be the last chance…
Sure, it may be fair to blame some of Hicks’ early struggles on the Twins handling of him. I still stand by the belief that if trading Denard Span and Ben Revere leaving Hicks your starter was an option, getting the jitters and game feel out-of-the-way in a meaningless 2012 September would have been the best route. That being said, nothing can be said about the effort and performance issues that Hicks has displayed in his major league career thus far.
As Paul Molitor steps into the clubhouse, he will bring a different voice. Although maybe not the disciplinarian that Doug Mientkiewicz is revered to be, Molitor will expect accountability. He will expect it from Hicks, as well as the other 24 players on his 25 man roster. With that in mind, Aaron Hicks has ventured to the crossroads that will likely be a career defining season.
Byron Buxton is not far off from taking over the starting centerfield job for the Twins. No matter how good Hicks is, there is nothing that is going to stop that scenario from playing out. However, Torii Hunter is aging and is not the defensive answer for the Twins. Oswaldo Arcia is serviceable at the plate, but he too is not who you’d like in left field. Should Aaron Hicks bring the same level of success he found in his minor league demotion a season ago to the major leagues, the left field spot could be his for the taking.
While regression at the major league level is to be expected, Hicks has proven he can get it done. If it’s preparation holding him back, expect Molitor to demand that changes. Minnesota is nearing the brink of a major turnaround, and adding Aaron Hicks back into the fold as a promising cog for the future could be one of the final additions that puts the plan over the top.