MLB Insider: Hicks, Hughes are Pick to Click favorites

  • Updated: April 5, 2014 - 7:32 PM

Outfielder Aaron Hicks started slowly and batted only .192 a year ago. But Twins fans can sense — or are hungry for — a turnaround, voting him as a likely candidate for a breakout 2014 season.

Photo: Steven Senne • Associated Pressca,

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The prediction business can be a risky one. For example, last year my Picks to Click were Mike Pelfrey and Justin Morneau.

And I’ve done worse. There was the year I picked David Ortiz to click (1999) and he wasn’t called up until September. That’s when I learned to announce my picks at the end of camp, not the beginning.

What’s fun about this exercise is that it’s applicable on winning AND losing teams. We can hash out the productivity of one player and not worry about how the Twins are doing in the standings.

It’s simple: Predict which Twins position player and which pitcher you expect to have a big year. If you pick Joe Mauer, then you’re calling for a .340 season — or a 25-homer season. So it’s somewhat relative to what that player did the previous year. In recent years, I’ve asked fans to weigh in. Thanks to responses on the Twins Insider blog and twitter (@LaVelleNeal) we had some heated races. Here are the results:

Position player to click

Your choice: Aaron Hicks. Hicks fought off a big challenge from Oswaldo Arcia, but someone with his talent is not going to hit .192 again, right? And Hicks is off to a pretty good start. He needed 16 games to get his fourth hit last season but needed only three games to get four hits this season. Now hopefully he’s learned his lesson on tracking fly balls hit over his head in Chicago. Runners-up: Oswaldo Arcia and Trevor Plouffe.

My choice: Hicks. Hicks spent spring training employing Rod Carew’s advice — look to hit the ball hard up the middle and be more aggressive in fastball counts. Sometimes we have to go out and fail before we realize why we’re told certain things, and Hicks might be at that stage now. “Hicks seems more mature,’’ Tony Oliva said during spring training. “I think he’s going to make it happen.’’

Pitcher to click

Your choice: Kyle Gibson. By one vote, Gibson is your choice to step up this year. He admitted that he let things unravel during his rookie season and came to camp this year as a man with a plan. He threw free and easy and we were able to see the same movement on his pitches he had before Tommy John surgery. The Twins’ offseason pitching purchases were needed, but Gibson is one of the keys to the Twins’ future on the mound. Runners-up: Phil Hughes and Samuel Deduno.

My choice: Phil Hughes. It appears that Hughes and pitching coach Rick Anderson have come up with a good plan. Junk the slider, tighten up the curveball, use the cutter. Hughes leaves the fastball up in the zone a lot, but a good curveball will allow him to get away with that at times. I want to predict 15 wins for him, but he’ll need decent run support for that to happen, and I’m not ready to anoint the Twins’ offense as productive just yet.

Central Intelligence

The Twins are trying to keep their ship afloat until a couple of aircraft carriers arrive to save the day. They are outfielder Byron Buxton, who could debut this season, and third baseman Miguel Sano, who would have made his debut this season if not for season-ending Tommy John surgery.

But the Twins are not the only ones in the AL Central with new young players. And, unfortunately, a couple are already in the majors and could become thorns in the Twins’ sides for many years to come.

Chicago’s import

The White Sox went out during the offseason and landed first baseman Jose Abreu after he defected from Cuba, signing him to a six-year, $68 million contract. Abreu, 27, has excellent power and appears to be a good hitter, too. And he certainly wasn’t overwhelmed against the Twins last week.

KC’s young arm

Royals righthander Yordano Ventura could wind up facing the Twins next weekend at Target Field. He has a fastball clocked at 102 miles per hour and a sharp curveball.

Tigers stay strong at third

Detroit’s trade of Prince Fielder allowed it to install Nick Castellanos at third. Castellanos hit .276 with 18 homers and 76 RBI last season as a 21-year old at Class AAA Toledo.

Cleveland got a young arm, too

Throw in Cleveland righthander Danny Salazar, and there are plenty of young newcomers who could present problems for the Twins.

Three early observations

•  How can a review of a play take five minutes because umpires were looking at another play? Have you seen pictures of MLB’s replay control center? It looks like CPU from the “24” series. Delegate and decide.

• Is it just me, or are umpires calling a wider strike zone?

•  Great moment in Anaheim on Opening Day when Mike Trout, who had just signed a $144.5 million contract extension, received a standing ovation before his first at-bat — and another after he homered.

... and two predictions

• Derek Jeter will play in 143 games in his final season.

• The Twins will go 11-15 in April.

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  • Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks (32) dives for a single hit by Boston Red Sox Mike Napoli in the second inning of an exhibition baseball game in Fort Myers, Fla., Thursday, March 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

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