The transformation of Aaron Hicks is well underway. The Twins’ former first-round draft pick has returned to the majors with the goal to show the coaching staff that he is a different player.
When he left for the minor leagues on June 8, he had a long swing, had given up switch-hitting and was reluctant to be anything other than a center fielder. That approach got him sent all the way down to Class AA New Britain.
Hicks stood in the clubhouse before Tuesday’s game against the White Sox sounding like a changed man. He sounded confident. He’s a switch hitter again. He confirmed that he has worked on shortening his swing and is now willing to play the corner outfield spots.
“It all comes down to knowing yourself as a player and knowing what you can do and what you want,” Hicks said. “It’s important for guys to be able to adjust to different situations and be able to, as a hitter, recognize it.”
Hicks, the 14th overall pick in 2008, has been the Opening Day starting center fielder in each of the past two seasons, but has been sent to the minors both years. He has a .194 average in 129 major league games, including .198 this season. When Hicks was sent to New Britain as part of a minor league rehabilitation assignment, the Twins decided to leave him there to work on his game.
Hicks had given up batting lefthanded May 26 because of declining confidence and a .145 batting average against righthanded pitchers at the time. Once he was healthy at New Britain, he decided to return to switch-hitting, Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who frequently speaks to Hicks, helped the former top prospect with the decision.
“He said it’s a blessing to be a switch hitter,” Hicks said. “… And so that’s when I made the decision to go back.”
Hicks hit .297 with a .404 on-base percentage at New Britain — .294 batting lefthanded — in 43 games. He moved on to Class AAA Rochester, where he batted .278 with a .349 on-base percentage — batting .300 lefthanded — in 24 games. He worked on shortening his swing with hitting coaches Chad Allen at New Britain and Tim Doherty at Rochester.
It suggests that Hicks is willing to sacrifice some power to hit for a higher average.
“I want to hit more balls up the middle and I want to keep my bat in the strike zone a lot longer to be consistent and hit a bunch of different pitches,” Hicks said. “As long as I stay short and compact and do what I know how to do, then I’ll be all right.”
Red Wings manager Gene Glynn said Hicks was looking like a threat at the plate and adapting to playing the corner outfield positions. The latter is important to the Twins, who expect prospect Byron Buxton to one day settle in at center in Target Field. Hicks pinch ran and played right field for one inning Tuesday night.
“It’s going to click, it’s just a matter of time,” Glynn said. “I’ve seen a real good guy who is competitive, who wants to play the game. I really feel the things he’s going through, if he gets through all this adversity he’s handled for two years, hopefully he comes out on the right end of things and becomes the player he can be.”
If that happens, then sending Hicks to New Britain was the right call.
“When you get sent back down to Double-A,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, “I’m sure there was a period where he had to sit back and think about a few things.”