Aaron Hicks has been given several opportunities to succeed with the Minnesota Twins. Yet, with each opportunity, he still can’t seem to figure out what it takes to play in the big leagues.
When the Twins traded away both Denard Span and Ben Revere for pitching during the 2012 offseason, it left an opening in center field. The organization felt, that Hicks would be able to man the position although he’d not played any higher than Double-A New Britain.
During Spring Training, Hicks batted .370/.407/.644 with 4 home runs, 18 RBIs and 18 runs scored. Because of this performance, Hicks was on the Twins as the starting center fielder.
During that first season, Hicks would show flashes of his defense in the outfield. However, at the plate, it was a different story. By the time he was sent to the minors in August, Hicks was batting .192/.259/.338 with 8 home runs, 27 RBIs and 37 runs scored.
Even more glaring were the ridiculous amount of strikeouts. In 281 at bats, Hicks struck out 84 times. That is almost one out of every three at bats or 30% to be more precise.
The Twins didn’t call up Hicks in September, hoping to light a fire under him and asked him to play winter ball. Instead of playing winter ball, Hicks spent the offseason relaxing.
During Spring Training of 2014, Hicks batted .327/.364/.462 with 1 home run, 4 RBIs and 5 runs scored. Definitely not numbers like the previous spring, but the Twins thought he did well enough that they felt it was warranted to have Hicks on the opening day roster as the starting center fielder.
It became apparent that Hicks was still struggling at the plate. At the end of May, Hicks abandoned switch-hitting, only batting from the right side of the plate since he was having trouble from the left side. However, he found it difficult to give up switch-hitting and would return to being a switch-hitter. By June, Hicks was back in the minors.
The Twins would recall Hicks in September when MLB rosters are allowed to expand. When the season was over, Hicks hadn’t improve much at all from a statistical prospective. In 69 games last season, Hicks batted .215/341/.274 with one home run, 18 RBIs and 22 runs scored. Again, he struck out almost one out of every three at bats or 30% of the time to be precise.
This spring, the Twins gave Hicks another shot at competing for the starting center fielder job. However, there was going to be plenty of competition for that job. Danny Santana was one possible player the Twins could put out in center, but the Twins were looking more to have him as their starting shortstop.
Jordan Shafer was another potential candidate to be the opening day center fielder. And, the Twins also named one of their top prospects, Eddie Rosario as another potential candidate. And, if Byron Buxton, the no. 1 prospect in all of baseball, had a really good spring, there was a chance that he might be the starting center fielder come opening day. However, that wasn’t likely since Buxton missed a good portion of the season last year due to injuries and a concussion.
Hicks would bat .206/.300/.324 with 2 RBIs and 3 runs scored. Not only did he not have the greatest of numbers at the plate, Hicks didn’t always seem to have his head in the game. He even forgot how many outs there were during the game.
When the dust was settled, Hicks was sent to Triple-A Rochester last Saturday along with Rosario. Buxton was sent out to minor league camp earlier this spring. It’s now expected that Shafer and Shane Robinson, who had played previously with the St. Louis Cardinals will be sharing playing time in center, but not necessarily in a platoon type situation. Twins manager Paul Molitor hasn’t confirmed that Robinson was going to be on the club come opening day, but the way things look right now, it appears that this is how the Twins will proceed.
Part of Hicks’s problem was he seemed to struggle to hit the breaking pitch. At one point last season, Hicks asked the Twins to quit throwing him breaking pitches during batting practice since he felt he was confused at the plate. Another thing to consider was the fact that Hicks had things come easy for him and when he reached the majors, he didn’t seem to always put in the effort given his refusal to go to winter ball and the fact he’d ask that the Twins to work around his biggest weakness.
Hicks has been given plenty of opportunities to succeed. With each, he hasn't lived up to expectations. Now, Hicks faces the biggest challenge of his playing career in getting back to the majors. Even being a fourth outfielder might not be within his grasp when you look at the outfield picture.
Torii Hunter will be in right field this season and if Hunter has a solid season, he will be back with the Twins for another year or two. Oswaldo Arcia currently figures to be in left field for the foreseeable future. And then, you have Buxton figured to be up at some point this season. Not only that, but Rosario also figures to be in the outfield picture in the Twins future.
It certainly isn’t impossible for Hicks to return with the Twins, but his window of opportunity has shrunk and will continue to shrink. The Twins will not give him any more opportunities unless he improves significantly in the minors. As of right now, it appears that this is the last time we will ever see Hicks in a Twins uniform.
Photos courtesy of: Bryan Green