Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Centerfielder The Twins Hoped For

The Twins are in somewhat of a downward spiral of late having won just two out of their last 10 contests. Now the owners of just a slim lead in the wild card standings, Minnesota is looking for bright spots. Luckily enough, the one I've been suggesting for well over a year, is shining brighter than ever. Aaron Hicks has stepped up and he's looking every bit what I've been suggesting he will become.

Ok so I'm a bit thrilled my belief in and backing of Hicks gas come to fruition. I put some of my thoughts in a blog post back in May (read it), and it's been maybe more well documented throughout my Twitter feed. Although the self gratification is fun, the bigger point here is how big of a development this is for not only Hicks, but the Twins as a whole.

It was pretty easily visible that Aaron Hicks was one of the best defensive options for the twins at the major league level. Having had such poor outfield defense for so long, Hicks provided range, ability, and an arm that the organization had not seen for a while. Save his few mental lapses, and he would likely be routinely mentioned amongst the best fielders in the game. It's at the plate though where Hicks has been plagued the longest.

There was a point in his career where Hicks wasn't sure switch hitting was his best plan of action. Struggling mightily against right-handed pitching, he didn't do much better on his dominant right-handed hitting side either. Owning just a .203/.273/.441 slash line in 2013 (his first big league season) as a righty, his line of .340/.400/.540 in 2015 is significantly improved. Having never hit above .215 at the big league level, his current .288 mark is incredibly impressive.

On top of getting extra base hits (Hicks has four doubles, two triples, and four home runs on the year), the biggest boost comes from his approach at the plate. A big on-base guy in the minors, Hicks hadn't flash much of that ability for the Twins. In 2015 though, he's got a career high .345 OBP and owns a 25/16 K/BB ratio.

Due to a better command of the zone, Hicks has seen drastic improvements in some different peripherals as well. Following strikeout percentages of 26.8 and 24.9 in 2013 and 2014 respectively, Hicks is being struck out just 14.1% of the time this season. He's got the lowest soft hit percentage of his career (15.6%) and has seen the biggest jump in his medium contact percentage (60.7%).

Aggressiveness has also been something that Hicks has noted working on, and that has shown as well. Swinging at more pitches, and earlier in the count, Hicks has been able to work things in his favor. He's swung at a career high 45.3% of pitches while owning a career best 82.0% contact rate. The new found confidence has also played when he's behind in the count. After getting down 0-2, Hicks owns a .296/.345/.481 line.

At the plate, Aaron Hicks has absolutely substantiated the notion I suggested many months ago. A promotion from Double-A based on a hot spring training was premature, and following a respectable time in Triple-A to end 2014 (.278/.349/.389 through 23 games), Hicks had completed a healthier path to his success.

In the field, Hicks has turned it up in 2015 as well. Having been already regarded as a good outfielder, he now owns a 3 DRS (defensive runs saved) mark this season, along with a 6.6 UZR (ultimate zone rating) and a 28.6 UZR/150. Having been a -0.6 and 0.1 fWAR player this season, Hicks is now worth 1.5 fWAR. To the Twins, he's absolutely an asset.

With Byron Buxton still being the best prospect in baseball, Hicks' run in centerfield is no doubt going to come to an end. With his arm, he profiles wonderfully to be an exceptional right-fielder as well. Until that time comes though, the Twins have the centerfielder they were hoping for, and the one I believed was flashing signs of being ready for far too long.

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