Aaron Hicks a Key for Minnesota Twins in 2016

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Of all the pleasant surprises of 2015, Aaron Hicks was one of the most impactful. The Minnesota Twins uber-talented first round pick out of Woodrow Wilson High School in 2008 has always had plenty of potential. He was ranked as the 19th best prospect in the game by Baseball America in 2009. Many people had given up on Hicks during his elongated trip to the majors. Despite putting up consistently solid MiLB numbers throughout his professional career, Hicks struggled in his first two major league seasons. In 2013, Hicks managed a paltry .192/.259/.338 line through 81 games. He made strides in 2014, particularly in his on base percentage, managing a .215/.341/.274 line which only served to highlight a bloated and unsustainable walk rate.

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Hicks had an up and down 2015. After a good May, Hicks struggled in June before erupting in July for a .346/.424/.577 line with 4 HR and 16 RBI through just 23 games. While this type of domination could not be maintained, when all was said and done Hicks posted by far his best season, a .256/.323/.398 effort with a significant spike in power and concurrent improvement in base running.

Upon closer examination, there are several key peripherals one could point to as the root of Hicks’ progress in 2015. He maintained his excellent walk rate while slashing his SO% dramatically from 24.9% to just 16.9%, well below the league average of 20.2%. While this may not seem like a significant measure, over a 162 game season in which Hicks had 4 ABs per game, Hick’s improvement would result in 58 less strikeouts. Hicks also improved his LD% to 25%, right on the league average, another encouraging sign. All these improvement boosted Hick’s WAR to 1.3, while his BaBIP of .285 would indicate these advances are not merely due to chance.

If Hicks can continue his progression heading in to the beginning of the 2016 season, the Twins may have found something they have been sorely lacking in recent seasons, a leadoff hitter. Despite Brian Dozier’s incredible season, including his All Star first half, his 30 home run power is more suited to hit second or third in the order. Danny Santana began 2015 in the slot after an impressive 2014 debut. Concerns about his inflated BaBIP were soon confirmed as he struggled to a putrid .215/.241/.291 line, spending the majority of his season at AAA Rochester. The Twins have struggled to find a prototypical leadoff hitter since the departure of Denard Span to the Nationals in the trade that brought Alex Meyer to Minnesota. The issue of finding a replacement has been mirrored by a similar one at third base, a void which one, or a combination of Trevor Plouffe and Miguel Sano seem to have filled. In Hicks the Twins may have found their answer at leadoff, a solid line drive hitter with decent pop and good speed, who plays excellent center field. 2016 may be the season Hicks takes the role and makes it his own.

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