Hicks himself was coming off a rehabilitation stint, which had followed a mild injury, which had followed another underwhelming stretch of major league play. When he went on the DL in mid-June, Hicks was hitting .247 with a paltry .594 OPS. This was after an underwhelming spring that left him stranded in Rochester until the middle of May.
When he came back in July, the perception at least was that he was running out of chances. Many of us, in fact, thought that he should have been out of chances already — that he had proven himself with inconsistency and immaturity (like abandoning switch-hitting temporarily last year or making mental errors this spring) to be a bust — a guy who was projected to be better than he actually was. The tools were there, but he couldn’t use them to make anything.
His resurgence since coming back in early July is quite possibly the most surprising positive thing in a Twins season full of both good and bad surprises. While the dreaded sample size is still small (just five weeks now), the numbers (.320 average, .909 OPS in 143 plate appearances) are indicative of at least one thing: This is why teams don’t give up on young players like Hicks.
Torii Hunter is the classic parallel, needing a few tries before catching fire during the final two months of 2000 (.355 BA, .912 OPS after hitting .190 with a .503 OPS up to that point in the year) and taking off from there to a very productive career. Hunter had about 600 plate appearances up to that point — almost the exact same number Hicks had before his hot streak started in July.
Hicks’ four-hit game Wednesday, when he raked a bunch of fat pitches, was impressive — but so, too, was a well-taken at-bat in the seventh inning Thursday that ended with an RBI single on a tougher pitch, tying a game the Twins nonetheless lost. That damage was done from the left side, a very encouraging sign for a hitter that has always looked better right-handed.
Again, the sample size is small enough that we must use caution here. (Paul Molitor said as much after Hicks’ four-hit game, praising a batter he has trusted enough recently to put in the leadoff spot but warning us not to extrapolate the numbers too far out just yet).
At the very least, we’re seeing more than just glimpses of potential from Hicks. We’re seeing steady production. To what extent it will continue remains to be seen, but the fact that we’re seeing it at all is a testament to some mix of patience, desperation and the different speeds at which different players figure things out.