Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Aaron Hicks May Have A Few Needs

Mar 9, 2015; Bradenton, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks (32) pops a ball up to third during the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports 
The Minnesota Twins centerfield position battle is probably one of the last true battles taking place this spring. At this point, I'm operating under the belief that Tommy Milone is going to win the final starting role, and that Danny Santana has all but claimed the Opening Day Shortstop position. With Aaron Hicks working to fend off both Jordan Schafer and Eddie Rosario, we have to start thinking about what happens if it doesn't work.

Now, full disclosure, I am not yet of this belief. I think Hicks has a really solid chance to put everything together at the big league level this year. Following his demotion to Double-A in 2014, he had the opportunity to climb through the system in succession for the first time, and his bat traveled with him. Combining to hit .291/.387/.441 across 67 minor league games, Hicks has shown he has the ability. While only batting .215 last season for the Twins, his .341 on base percentage would only skyrocket if he could increase his average. Giving him the beginning of the season to make it work, I think Minnesota finally sees some of the returns they expected when selecting him in the first round.

Back to what happens in the doomsday scenario, Hicks is very close to reaching this point as well. He's hit just .201/.293/.313 across 150 career major league games. While his plate discipline was significantly improved last season, he showed a lack of decision making and struggled to cover the edge of the plate allowing slow hands to be a detriment through the zone. On top of the mental lapses that have been displayed on center stage, there's no doubt that Hicks is on his last straw with the Twins.

A few different recommendations have been thrown around for Hicks. Recently Patrick Reusse was talking about a conversation he had with veteran outfielder Torii Hunter regarding Hicks. Hunter mentioned that Hicks has been taking direction from so many different people over the last two seasons, he's constantly trying to tweak something or implement something new. Torii noted that when he was sent back down to the minors a second time, what worked best was sticking to what he knew. Focusing on the process you have that has worked, rather than to constantly change for different results, finally elevated him to where he is today. That's not to suggest it's what will work for Hicks, but having Hunter to help him break through this season is definitely a valuable asset.

Minnesota will know relatively early on what is going to need to be done with Hicks. Until Byron Buxton takes over centerfield on this team, Hicks can't be moved to a corner spot (something he must play his way into anyways) or play as a fourth outfielder. Rosario is pushing for playing time, and while Schafer isn't a prototypical centerfielder, both are better suited for time than a struggling Hicks. If the All Star break approaches with Hicks in familiar territory, the Twins will be forced with a decision, and an interesting option may present itself.

This morning, local sports minds Brandon Warne and Jeremy Nygaard were discussing Hicks and a change of scenery type scenario. I think they stumbled across something that makes a lot of sense.

To summarize the brief exchange, Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Boston Red Sox organization and Aaron Hicks are in fact very similar. Both are former top prospects who have struggled to put it together at the major league level. Hicks may be blocked by only himself and the environment he's in, while Bradley Jr. hasn't afforded himself any opportunities while also being blocked by Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo. Should the Twins decide that they are in a position to cut bait, an exchange with the Red Sox to give both players a new opportunity, may make a lot of sense.

At the end of the day, the hope would be that Aaron Hicks can put it together out of the gate this season. He's out of chances (while he still does have an option left) and there's little left for the Twins to do in hopes of trying to get production out of him. When Opening Day hits, Hicks will be on a quick trajectory towards playing himself into the future plans of the organization, or right out of it.