For all the buzz he built up during spring training, it didn’t take long for Aaron Hicks to sour the widespread enthusiasm surrounding him. We’re barely over a week into the season and already we’re seeing calls for the rookie center fielder to be shipped to the minors, or at least the bottom of the lineup.
In fairness, Hicks has done his part. Through eight games, he has been flat-out overmatched, with two hits, two walks and 13 strikeouts in 32 plate appearances. He torched opposing pitchers during exhibition play, but ever since the games started mattering and hurlers stepped it up, Hicks has looked utterly confounded by big-league stuff.
With his reputation for seeing lots of pitches and taking good at-bats in the minors (a trait that was certainly on display in spring training) the Twins had hoped that Hicks would set a strong example with his approach in the lead-off spot. Instead, he has frequently appeared to have no plan whatsoever at the plate, slumping back to the dugout dejectedly after being blown away by vicious heaters and benders the likes of which he’s never seen before.
He’s clearly overwhelmed, which may seem like a good enough reason to get him to Triple-A so he can regain some confidence and straighten himself out. If things haven’t changed by the time we get into May, it will be a perfectly justifiable decision, carrying the added benefit of delaying his service clock and buying an extra year of team control.
But we simply haven’t reached that point yet. We’re less than 10 games into the season and as bad as Hicks has been over these 32 plate appearances, we’re still talking about 32 plate appearances. If the Twins were going to give him the opportunity to jump from Double-A straight to the majors, they need to at least give him a chance to work through some initial struggles and adjust. At this juncture, the team’s outcomes take a backseat to the player’s development, and while I’m not saying that a trip to Rochester wouldn’t necessarily be the best thing for Hicks, there’s no way to know that yet. He needs time.
The same goes for other youngsters who have stumbled out of the gates, such as Brian Dozier and Liam Hendriks. The way players get better is through reps and experience, not through being jerked around and demoted based on short stretches of poor performance. The last thing the Twins need to is to repeat their 2012 handling of Chris Parmelee, who shuttled back and forth between the minors and majors, dominating one level and looking flummoxed (in sporadic playing time) at the other. Looking back, did we really learn anything about Parmelee last year?
The month of April is for evaluation. When May and June roll around, then the talk can begin about taking actions based on a more meaningful set of data. For now, the best approach is the one Ron Gardenhire took on Tuesday night with scuffling Hicks and Dozier: give them a day off to clear their heads, then get them back out there the next night (as I suspect they will be).