TwinsCentric was formed by Twins super-bloggers Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes. Together they publish at TwinsDaily.com and have authored books, e-books and magazines that provide independent and in-depth coverage of the Minnesota Twins from a fan's perspective. You can contact them at TwinsCentric@gmail.com.
One of the more critical openings the Minnesota Twins will have this year is in center fielder. If all goes well that job will be Aaron Hicks’ to borrow. What are the odds that he meets expectations in 2015?
The offseason did not start off well for Hicks as in November he was released from his Venezuelan winter ball team after hitting just .220/.381/.280 in 16 games. The explanation from his team was that he was released because of the poor production but there were rumblings from local media that the Venezuelan team was also upset with his attitude. Whatever the case might be between him and Bravos de Margarita, earlier in the offseason general manager Terry Ryan was emphatic that the Twins organization had no concerns over Hicks’ drive and makeup.
Meanwhile, during his introductory conference call with season ticket holders manager Paul Molitor reiterated his hopes that Hicks will be able to hold the center field job. That, of course, will depend on how much he can do with the stick. Since coming up to the Twins in 2013, Hicks has posted an OPS+ of 69 (heh) which is 79 out of 89 hitters who have played at least 25 games in center. Ahead of him? Sam Fuld (76), Jordan Schafer (82), Alex Presley (83) and Danny Santana (130). With the exception of Santana, those other three players were readily available making Hicks the epitome of a player below replacement-level.
It is a shame considering Hicks has all the requisite tools necessary to be a solid contributor. All that is, except hitting. If the baseball saying goes ‘hit and we’ll find a position for you’, the opposite is certainly true for those who cannot hit.
There does not seem to be any reason to blame bad luck for the low offensive numbers, either. According to ESPN/TruMedia’s database, since 2013 Hicks’ hard-hit average has been at .115 -- well below the average of .155 and qualifies as 31 of 36 center fielders with 400 plate appearances. Because of this, it is easy to see why he wound up with the second lowest batting average on balls in play in that pool.
Part of what makes him so volatile at the plate is being a switch-hitter that has not found comfort at either side of the plate -- particularly from the left-hand side where he will find the bulk of his plate appearances. Ted Simmons, the former switch-hitting catcher who eventually became the San Diego Padres bench coach, offered this up to ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian about hitting from both sides: It’s difficult.
"Six percent of all players is a very small sample,'' Simmons told ESPN regarding having success when hitting from both sides. "And how many of that 6 percent are even capable of hitting .300? Now that 6 percent goes down to maybe 2 percent. So now we're talking about a very, very, very small sample. I also have yet to find a person that completely, totally, unequivocally has bilateral symmetry. One side is always dominant. People can't write right-handed and left-handed with the same physicality.”
Hicks shares Simmons’ sentiments on switch-hitting as well. Even before his decision to drop the left-handed swing in 2014, he knew the sinister swing was his weaker side.
“I play golf right-handed. I do everything right-handed,” Hicks told Alan Maimon and Chuck Myron in their book Hits and Misses in the Baseball Draft before the start of the 2012 season. “I think one of the main reasons I’m good at hitting baseball right-handed is because of the eye-hand coordination I developed playing golf. I never felt the same confidence hitting left-handed. And neither did my coaches. In high school, they’d say, ‘Hey, we’ve got the bases loaded. Can Aaron please hit right-handed, so we can win this game?’ [Before the 2012 season], I fooled around with playing left-handed golf. I think it helped my left-handed baseball swing come along.”
Beyond the strains of switch-hitting, what is happening in his swing that is hindering his ability to make quality contact? In 2012 Hicks said to the Star Tribune’s Phil Miller in a Baseball America article that he was tinkering too much with his swing the previous season.
“I never got any consistency last year because I was just tweaking my swing too much,” the Hicks said. “I tried my hands high, then tried them low. I tried holding my bat still, then I tried letting my hands move more freely. I was constantly changing it up.”
Despite trying multiple swings along the way, it appears that the bulk of the modifications were focused on his hands. Judging from recent video, the problem could be a few feet lower.
Watch his swing up to the point of contact from the left-hand side:
Earlier this week we put out a call on the Twins Daily forum and on Twitter for mailbag questions. You guys came through in a major way. So many great submissions. We've grabbed a bunch of them to feature below.
Let's get to it:
TD Member Boom Boom:
Should the Twins look to bring in a CF, or should they stand pat with Hicks and/or Schafer?
I'd be fine rolling with those two. Hopefully Paul Molitor is open to the idea of platooning, because using Hicks against lefties and Schafer against righties would maximize both their strengths. Even then, that duo might not be anything special offensively, but they'll provide solid defense at least, and Byron Buxton might only be a year away.
Plus, maybe Hicks goes on a nice roll, regains confidence in swinging from both sides and turns into an everyday player. With his patience and defensive prowess, he only needs to hit a little bit to be a valuable starter. I haven't given up on him by any means.
TD Member gunnarthor:
Assuming there isn't a spot in the rotation for him right away, should Meyer pitch in the pen or as a starter in AAA?
Bullpen. Send him on the Francisco Liriano and Johan Santana path. He can get his first taste of big-league hitters by unleashing his best stuff during short stints, then once someone inevitably gets hurt or needs to be replaced, the Twins can stretch him out and let him step in. There's a lot of benefit to keeping Meyer's innings in check early in the season, since he'll be on a workload limit once again.
TD Member goulik:
What type of influence do you see Hunter having on Hicks developing into the outfielder he should have become by now and also on Buxton? Has he ever been given credit with mentoring younger players or are we expecting too much from that part of this signing?
Hunter has a well known rep in that department. He's been credited with helping mentor Mike Trout into the big leagues, and that's a pretty nice notch in the belt. I don't think he's going to directly affect how they play -- he can't teach Hicks to hit left-handed or Buxton to stay healthy -- but if Hunter can make a highly stressful environment a little more comfortable and manageable for them, there's value in that.
TD Member Bark's Lounge:
What's the deal with Ricky Nolasco? Did he hide his arm injury last season? Is he a subversive type of player? I don't put too much into his semi-controversial comment on Twitter, but when we throw all of this material into the whole enchilada, did the Twins make a grave mistake in signing him or is there still reason to believe he can be a part of the solution and we can continue to toss pennies and nickles into the Ricky Nolasco Wishing Well?
There was a combination of factors at play. He was facing tougher lineups with designated hitters. He endured some bad luck, finishing with a 4.30 FIP and 3.97 xFIP that belied his bloated ERA. And yeah, he was probably pitching through some pain.
He's now had a full season to acclimate to playing here, and an offseason to rest up and get himself right physically. I'm confident he'll have a much better year. If he doesn't, it'd put the Twins in a pretty tough position.
TD Member jay:
With the addition of a corner outfielder and a starting pitcher so far this offseason, what's the biggest remaining need? How should they address that need?
To be honest, I don't see much left to cover. You could make a case for a stopgap in center field, but as mentioned above, that can be covered internally. The rotation is full and the starting lineup is set. They've got a good utility guy in Eduardo Escobar and a backup catcher in Josmil Pinto (I guess?). The bullpen might be facing a squeeze, if anything.
We fielded a bunch more quesitons over at Twins Daily, so feel free to come on by for discussion on Pelfrey's future, who will lead the Twins in homers next year, Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham's chances of sticking, and more.
In 2012, Santana was a mess. His velocity was down, his command had escaped him and opponents were dropping dingers all over place (he allowed an MLB-high 39 home runs).
While with the Angels, manager Mike Scioscia questioned whether Santana could maintain a consistent release point and often found his mechanics erratic. Whether his mechanics played a role, the right-handed witnessed a decline in his fastball’s velocity and the ability to throw it for a strike regularly. That year 23 of his league-leading 39 home runs came on his fastball. Tired of paying for more baseballs, Los Angeles decided not to pick up his option for 2013 and traded him to Kansas City.
Somewhere between California and Missouri, Santana smoothed out rough spots in his delivery that plagued him with the Angels. Most noticeably, in 2012 Santana had the habit of tilting his upper body towards the first base side while in the full windup before driving towards home. The results of this was a front side that would fly-open (his glove side drifting towards the first base line prematurely) and creating issues for his command.
At some point with the Royals, this was corrected and his upper body weight stayed above his back leg and tilted slightly towards the third base side while gathering. When driving towards the plate he remains on line and his glove side does not flip as quickly.
In these two examples both catchers are indicating they want a slider thrown down and on Santana’s glove side. Because of the mechanics in 2012, his arm drags and is not able to finish the slider properly. The slider stays up and in. (Although he misses his spot, Seattle’s Jesus Montero is flummoxed anyway as everyone knows his bats are afraid of balls that curve.) In the 2014 example, because of his fluid and smooth delivery Santana is able to place his slider in a much better spot.
More from TwinsDaily.com:
Nick Nelson sees the Santana signing as a shifting mindset for the Twins.
Frequent Randball contributor Jon Marthalar shows why $200 million is the new $100 million.
Thursday is the final day of the 2014 Winter Meetings. The big event of the final day each year is the Rule 5 draft. The Minnesota Twins roster is currently at 39, so they will be able to participate in the Rule 5 draft. The Twins may have interest in several players from other organizations that are available. It is also possible that the Twins could lose a player or two if other teams select them.
It should be also pointed out that the MLB Rule 5 draft is just the first of three Rule 5 drafts. There is a AAA portion of the Rule 5 draft. Each organization can put up to 39 players on their AAA roster. The Twins have 38 players on their roster, according to GM Terry Ryan on the Twins Hot Stove Show last night, so they will likely make a selection in that phase. Finally, there is a AA portion of the draft, though very few players are selected in it.
There are several differences between these drafts. To make an MLB selection, a team must pay $50,000. That player needs to be on the drafting team’s 25-man roster all season or be offered back to the original team for $25,000. The other option is that the teams can work out a trade. The Twins have examples of what can happen with their three most recent picks.
To select a player in the AAA portion, the cost to the team is $12,000. For a player selected in the AA portion, the cost is $5,000. In both cases, the player remains with the new organization.
It has become a lot more difficult to find high-level talent in the Rule 5. The rules changed a few years ago so that teams would have an extra year to determine whether or not to add a player to the 40 man roster.
The Twins have had some success in the Rule 5 draft in their past. Diamond certainly had one very good season. Shane Mack came to the Twins in the Rule 5 draft in 1989 and was a big contributor to the Twins for five seasons.
PLAYERS THE TWINS COULD LOSE
We don’t know who is or isn’t on the AAA or AA roster, so it’s really hard to determine who could be lost. A year ago, the Twins lost Tim Atherton to the A’s in the AAA draft. We do know who is on the Twins roster and who is eligible to be lost by the team.
We like to assume that first-round picks will be easy choices to add to the 40-man roster when that time comes. However, the Twins have several former first round picks who could be lost. There are several other players who could be taken.
To see the list of players that the Twins could lose in the Rule 5 draft, as well as a list of players that the Twins could potentially be interested in selecting with their Rule 5 pick, head on over to TwinsDaily.com.
Also, be sure to check out Parker's most recent article. He wrote about Molitor's Managerment Style.
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