DETROIT – Aaron Hicks calls his approach at the plate these days “aggressively patient.” Funny, that’s how the Twins have handled his career path, too.
Aggressive in both 2013 and ’14 in handing Hicks a starting job before he was ready, the Twins now are patiently waiting for him to show he is finally a big-leaguer.
“He’s had to search a little bit, maybe both at his game and internally about what he wants out of this game,” manager Paul Molitor said. “We’ve all seen the maturity that he’s showed and how he’s developed as a young man. Hopefully that will transfer over to how he plays the game.”
Hicks got his chance Tuesday, when he made his 2015 debut against the Tigers, but he is guaranteed only three days here. That’s not much time to prove he should never leave.
“It’s all about becoming a better player. Some guys take longer than others, some guys come up and start raking. Some guys are just made that way,” Hicks said shortly after flying in from Rochester, N.Y., where he spent the first five weeks in Class AAA. “I feel like for me, I’ve got to do what I can to stay here — start out well and give myself an opportunity to stay here.”
Hicks’ first chance had some good and bad in the Twins’ 2-1, 10-inning loss to the Tigers. He tracked down Victor Martinez’s long fly ball to deep center, saving a run. He beat out an infield hit leading off the 10th inning. But he struck out with runners at second and third to end the third inning, couldn’t drive a ball deep enough to score Kennys Vargas from third with one out in the fifth and was caught stealing to end the 10th.
“I felt really comfortable on defense. And in the box, I was just a little too aggressive at times,” Hicks said afterward. “I gradually got better [at the plate], and just missed my pitch. It was a good start.”
That he gets this chance at all is only because Shane Robinson left the team Monday to deal with a family emergency, which he and the Twins prefer to keep private. Robinson can spend between three and seven days on the emergency list, at which point Hicks — or someone else, if the Twins so choose — will be returned to Rochester.
But at some point, Hicks was going to get another chance anyway, because he has been one of the best hitters in the International League this season. Hicks was hitting .336 when he got the surprise promotion Monday, with 16 extra-base hits, a .415 on-base percentage and a .561 slugging percentage.
“He’s earned it. He’s been very consistent,” assistant general manager Rob Antony said. “There really wasn’t much consideration of anyone else. It’s an opportunity for him to come up and play, and we’ll see where he’s at.”
And if he hits as well in a Twins uniform as he did with the Red Wings? “We can make that decision when the time comes,” Antony said.
Hicks hopes it’s a tough decision, because failing to stick, and doing so as noticeably as he has, is an unpleasant experience. “You want to do the best you can to help your team win, and when you’re not succeeding, it’s tough,” he said.
So is he, Hicks said. He accepted his spring-training demotion as a challenge and has worked to refine his strike zone. The switch hitter is seeing the ball better now, he said, and he takes pride in his defense, too.
Molitor will be watching Hicks’ focus, which has been a problem for the 2008 first-round pick in the past. That might be the best indicator of whether, at 25, he has matured, the manager said. “Every pitch on both sides of the ball is important,” Molitor said. “I just want him to take every day, every at-bat, every time he gets on base, every pitch when he’s on defense — just try to be in the game. Try to find a way to get back and enjoy it.”
That hasn’t always been the case: “I felt he was fighting it,” Molitor said. “When you come up here and you don’t take the reins when given the opportunity, I think it starts to weigh on your confidence and maybe [raises] questions: What are you going to do in this game in the long run? So [I want] to just get him back to where he can go put the time in to the preparation and the focus, and hopefully [he’ll] start enjoying the game again.”