Progress for Twins rookie Hicks comes in small steps

Despite his .044 average, the Twins don’t plan on sending him down any time soon.

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Aaron Hicks is hitless in his past 19 at-bats, but he did draw three walks in two games against the Angels and scored a run after each walk.

Photo: File photo by BRIAN PETERSON • brianp@startribune.com ,

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– When Aaron Hicks is in center field, he is used to looking in front of him and seeing the sky. Now he sees the second, and third, decks of stadiums.

The largest media horde he faced a year ago at Class AA New Britain, he said, was four people. He has had more than 20 at his clubhouse stall at times this season.

“I’m definitely seeing things you don’t see in the minor leagues,” Hicks said. “Just everything in general.”

The scoreboard at Target Field makes his .044 batting average look quite clear, and he has had to answer several variations of the same question before and after games: Is the slump getting to you, kid?

“No, not really,” he said. “This is baseball. It’s what I do for a living, but it’s not who I am. I mean, baseball is everything, but at the end of the day you have to go home and enjoy living. Life is not guaranteed.”

It’s become a curious case of a rookie center fielder dealing with a jump directly from Class AA, and a club that doesn’t want to see him lose his confidence. But team officials have discussed several options, including sending him back down to the minors. Hicks’ game is patterned for the top of the batting order, but he is 2-for-45 this season with six walks and 20 strikeouts.

For now, the Twins will only drop him down from the leadoff spot. He batted eighth Tuesday against the Angels and was set to bat eighth Wednesday before that game was rained out. The Twins have arrived in Chicago for a weekend series against the White Sox, and Hicks was expected to bat in the bottom third of the order again, but Friday night’s game was postponed because of cold weather.

When Hicks returns to the lineup Saturday — weather permitting — he will have had a lot of time to clear his mind and focus on having good at-bats.

“I’m barely missing pitches,” Hicks said. “In the spring, I wasn’t missing pitches. Now I am missing them and getting in some tough counts and then facing some pretty good pitchers.”

Coach has been there

First-year Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky agreed with Hicks’ self-assessment. The two have some things in common. Hicks was the 14th overall pick in 2008, Brunansky was the 14th overall pick in 1978. They both struggled mightily in their first trip to the majors. Brunansky actually was sent down by the Angels after batting .152 in 11 games. So he understands what Hicks is going through.

The two have worked on laying off breaking pitches, because Hicks has routinely fallen behind in the count and then whiffed on a breaking pitch outside the strike zone. Brunansky has seen progress.

“I’m seeing things that he was doing earlier that he’s not doing now,” Brunansky said. “He’s more aware of what we’re trying to get him doing to get back to who he is. We have not changed anything in his swing. It’s not a mechanical issue. It’s the visual issue of seeing it and trusting what you see and attack what you see.”

The Twins staff is encouraged by the most recent results; Hicks drew a walk Monday and two Tuesday without striking out in either game, largely because he laid off pitches he couldn’t hit. Now it’s time for him to convert the good at-bats into hits, rather than walks.

The team is committed to playing him — especially since he’s now the only natural center fielder on the roster with Darin Mastroianni on the disabled list.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire believes Hicks, in the long run, is better off figuring things out in the major leagues rather than having to take a step back to the minors.

“There’s been lots of players who have had to go down to the minors,” Gardenhire said. “Our preference is for him to get going up here and let’s quit worrying about it. There’s issues, we’ve seen it. And we’re trying to straighten them out now.

“Talking with Brunansky, he wants to work with this kid. He had him out there early and did some things with him and believes he can get him right. You know what? I’m with Tom. We’ll see what happens.”

 

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