ANAHEIM, CALIF – Preparation was not Aaron Hicks’ strong suit in his first two years with the Twins. And it showed as he tumbled from the lofty prospect status he once held to someone who might be letting his chance at a productive major league career slip away.
But a light bulb has gone off.
“At night, when we are done with a game, I’ll go back to my hotel or room and study up on the pitcher who is pitching next and come up with my own game plan,” Hicks said. “And I’ll go to [hitting coach Tom] Brunansky and see what he thinks.”
“He didn’t study relievers,” teammate Torii Hunter said.
Hicks does now. “Not just starters, but relievers,” Hicks said. “Just seeing what they look like. Knowing before I get into the box if he’s a control pitcher or a hard thrower, and what his first and second pitches are.”
The former first-round pick no longer looks in over his head at the plate and is showing he could have a productive career.
“I just want to keep building, keep getting better,” he said. “Keep elevating my game and help this team win.”
He hasn’t yet made the impact one might expect from a former 14th overall pick (in 2008), but he’s improved enough that the Twins have noticed. Hicks entered Tuesday batting .261 with three home runs and nine RBI in 41 games — not impressive, but Hicks batted .201 over his first 150 major league games coming into this season. That qualifies as stepping up.
“As of late there has been a lot more affirmation than reprimanding or criticism because he seems to be on a pretty good course when to comes to preparation,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
After being the Twins’ Opening Day starter in center field in 2013 and 2014, the Twins cut Hicks from spring training camp this season and went with Shane Robinson and Jordan Schafer in center field. It seemed as if Hicks had blown his chance, as he was about to get run over by the Byron Buxton Express coming out of Class AA Chattanooga.
Hicks hit .333 in 34 games at Class AAA Rochester and was called up May 11. He hit .247 in 28 games before landing on the 15-day disabled list because of a forearm strain. He returned to the lineup July 3 and has batted .293 in 13 games since.
Now Hicks has a chance to share the outfield with Buxton, considered the top prospect in baseball at the start of the season, when Buxton returns from a sprained left thumb.
When asked about Hicks’ offensive ceiling, Molitor used the scouting scale of two through eight to describe his potential.
“I think a five is a productive everyday player on both sides of the ball,” Molitor said. “I would think, at the least, he would fulfill that.”
Hicks has shadowed Hunter ever since the Twins signed their former All-Star and Gold Glover for a second tour. Hunter has helped Hicks with his preparation, understanding how pitchers try to get him out and dealing with failure.
“He helped me understand the difference between going in a slump and facing a really good pitcher,” Hicks said. “You can go 0-for because you didn’t take one good swing or you got yourself out because his stuff is that good and you’re going to have days like that.”
Hicks, who grew up in nearby Long Beach, expected about 50 friends and family to be in the stands for Tuesday’s game and some to return for other games in the Angels series. They’ll get to see an improved version of Hicks, one the Twins are pleased has finally arrived.
“His at-bats, the walks are starting to come a little bit, and the long pitch counts,” Molitor said. “His defense continues to be solid. We have been hoping for him to get to this point for a while. It seems like he’s on a path to get there.”