Monday, May 4, 2015

Aaron Hicks 2.0 Is Ready

In the spring of 2013, the Minnesota Twins promoted former first round pick, Aaron Hicks, to the Opening Day roster following spring training. That spring, he hit .370/.407/.644 with four home runs and 18 runs batted in across just 73 at bats. After dealing Denard Span and Ben Revere during the offseason, Minnesota needed their next ceneterfield, and they believed Hicks was the future. Fast forward to 2015, and you know how the story went. Fortunately for Hicks, the next chapter is yet to be written, and it looks like it's going to be must read.

In his first two big league seasons, Hicks has spent time between the major leagues, and different levels of the farm system. At the big league level, he has hit just .201/.293/.313 over the course of 150 games (or roughly one full season). There's no doubt that fans have grown cautious about expecting much more from a guy who's looked overmatched at the plate, and disinterested in the field. That all noted, it's time that the next chapter of Hick's story gets written.

Following a demotion to Double-A in 2014, Hicks had a significant reality check. After being shown what major league life looks like, he was sent back to the doldrums of the farm system, and forced to travel to games by bus. If you were unconvinced that would motivate the former first round pick, Hicks' numbers the rest of the season should calm those nerves. Ending 2014 playing in 67 minor league games (43 at Double-A New Britain and 24 at Triple-A Rochester), the centerfielder hit .291/.387/.441. Despite looking at abandoning his switch-hitting ways, Hicks focused and succeeded at the plate.

In being sent to Double-A in 2014, Hicks experienced a first in his professional career. He had never gone from Double-A to Triple-A in succession. While some prospects can skip the highest level of the minors, others benefit significantly from the continued progression. With Double-A often housing the higher prospects, it is in Triple-A where pitchers generally can pitch more than simply throw, and hitters are forced to deal with more refined breaking pitches each at bat. Hicks' struggles at the major league level were being reworked correctly for the first time in his career. After being promoted due to a strong spring and by need in the outfield, the Twins were putting Hicks in a position to best succeed.

Spring training kicked off for 2015, and Hicks didn't light anything on fire. As we've seen before however, numbers are rarely indicative of how a regular season is going to go. No doubt the bigger issue this spring for Hicks was his lack of focus at certain times in games. Not knowing situations or seeming disinterested was never going to be a good impression to place on first year manager Paul Molitor. Despite arguably being the best option to start in center for the Twins, Minnesota sent Hicks to Rochester to begin the season. Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson were brought north, and Hicks was sent another message.

For the Twins in 2015, Robinson has done everything asked of him. He's played a strong defensive outfield, and he's surprisingly been an asset at the plate. On the flip side, Schafer has been anything but. Looking overmatched in the outfield, his .189/.218/.226 line does Minnesota no favors at the plate either. While his speed is valuable, he has been unable to use it struggling to get on base. With no stolen bases through the first month, it's time Minnesota moves on from Schafer and puts Hicks back in his role. This time however, the big league club should expect it to be different.

Through the first month of the season, Hicks has hit .289/.375/.494 for the Rochester Red Wings. He homered twice, drove in 13 runs, stolen two bases, and owns a 15/12 K/BB rate. After the success shown in Double and Triple-A last season, combined with his start in 2015, the Twins should be expecting a new Aaron Hicks, 2.0 if you will. While Molitor may still have to invoke some professionalism on the young man (just 25 years old), there's no doubt the Twins could use Hicks' talent on their roster.

Despite early returns not being where the club would have liked, 150 games prior to conventional promotions should not be the end of Aaron Hicks story. There's no doubt Target Field should be calling Hicks' name soon, and Twins fans should finally expect to be the better for it. Aaron Hicks 2.0 appears to be ready.