Coming into the game, centerfielder Aaron Hicks had a hitting line of .137/.239/.216 (.455). He had just five extra base hits in the first 30 games. He had struggled one defense as well as with the bat.
And then came Monday night.
After popping up in his first at bat, Hicks came up to the plate to lead off the 4th inning. He launched a long home run, 416 feet to straight-away centerfield.
In the top of the 6th inning, the Twins lead had been cut to 5-3 with a runner still on base when Adam Dunn, who also came into the game with a .137 batting average, came to the plate. Dunn launched a ball to nearly the same spot as Hicks’s home run. Fortunately, Hicks raced back to the wall, leapt and then caught the ball well above the fence, robbing Dunn of a game-tying home run.
The Target Field crowd erupted as Hicks showed the ball and smiled all the way back in to the dugout. He would bat second in the bottom half of the 6th inning. After Oswaldo Arcia struck out, Hicks stepped to the plate. On the first pitch he saw from lefty Hector Santiago, Hicks made solid contact and launched a ball, 412 feet, into the bullpen behind the left field fence.
In doing so, he became the youngest Twins player to have a multi-home run game since Justin Morneau did it in 2004. Upon arriving in the dugout, the fans called for a curtain call, and Hicks obliged.
Following the game, Hicks stat line showed .152/.256/.286 (.542). It’s a good reminder of how much Hicks has struggled. It is going to take him a while to get those numbers up into the “respectable” category. However, his ability to take walks and show some power are encouraging for the long-term future.
As disappointing as the first six weeks of the season has been for Hicks, it’s important to remember why fans were right to be excited about Hicks. No, it has nothing to do with the small-sample of Spring Training, though that was certainly encouraging. Let’s take a quick look at the Aaron Hicks stat line and recall why there is so much optimism for the future of Aaron Hicks.
We won’t go all the way back to 2008 when the Twins took the California prep with the 14th overall pick. At the time, some teams ranked him higher than that, but as a pitcher. However, Hicks wanted to be a hitter, and the Twins were happy to take a guy that many believed had five-tool potential.
It certainly has not been an easy ride up the Twins farm system. In 2009, he was scheduled to play in Elizabethton, but injuries pushed him up to Beloit where he struggled. He struggled enough that he repeated in Beloit in 2010 and showed much improvement. In 2011, he moved up to Ft. Myers where he again struggled early. He was a surprise invite to the Arizona Fall League where he had a nice breakout showing.
In 2012, he moved up to AA and showed exactly what he can be as a player if he were to develop well. Hicks hit .286/.384/.460 (.844). Although I don’t believe that he will ever be a real high batting average guy, Hicks has always had a knack for getting on nearly 10% of the team via the walk. It is always great to see that trait remain as a player moves up levels.
Hicks also had 21 doubles, 11 triples and 13 home runs in 2012. This shows that Hicks is not just a guy who stands at the plate and hopes to walk. He does have plenty of extra base power. He likely won’t be a 30 homer guy, but at his peak, Hicks could hit 15-20 home runs a year. The doubles and triples show that he has very good gap power, and the triples indicate the kind of speed that Hicks has. Add in 32 stolen bases, and you know that you’ve got a very fast player.
Is he a five-tool player? Because he is one to strike out quite a bit, he may never have a great hit tool, but I think his ability to get on base makes up for that to some degree. He has good power for the position he plays. He certainly has very good speed. Although we have not seen it consistently, Aaron Hicks can be a very good outfielder with good range. And, his arm is very strong and generally quite accurate.
Is it surprising that Aaron Hicks is struggling early in the season? Not at all. Hicks has struggled early in seasons before when going to a new level. Then consider that he is actually skipping a level to go along with being in the big leagues for the first time. His struggles have been monumental, but a game like Monday night should remind us of Hicks’ immense ability. Now, it’s just a matter of how can he put together consistently quality plate appearances from game to game, or even from at bat to at bat.
Does one tremendous game mean that the tide has turned and all will be good for Hicks going forward? Of course not. What it does, for me, is remind me that the Twins need to do whatever it is that they feel is best for Hicks long-term to attempt to make him the best player he can be. Is that struggling in the big leagues, or is there a better situation for Hicks in Rochester? I can’t pretend to know the right answer to that question as it is something that would be different for every player. The variables to that question go beyond the physical and deep into the mental and psychological makeup of the player.
The Smile doesn’t show up on the stat page, and often we tend to mock the intangibles, but it was continually brought up how much Hicks was smiling following the catch, then the second home run and through the curtain call. With the struggles, it is great to see Hicks actually having fun. It’s easy to say that one is having fun, but it was clear that Hicks was relaxed enough at that point to have a blast. If he can relax, it will only help his performance on the field.
So, what do you think?
2.) In your opinion, what is best for Hicks, to struggle in the big leagues, or to be able to work on things in Triple-A Rochester?
3.) How do you feel about the future of Aaron Hicks? How has that opinion changed since the offseason? Since spring training? Since… yesterday?