Think back to when Aaron Hicks was still considered a prospect. Back in the days where not many of us had actually seen him play and all we had to go off of was scouting reports, there were a few things that we heard with consistency. We knew he had 70 or 75 speed on the 20-80 scale. The arm was also a plus, and the hit and power tools were projectable. If Hicks wasn't a five-tool prospect, he was close. And if the Twins could just give him some solid coaching and instruction, he could turn into a switch-hitting Andrew McCutcheon.
The other thing we heard, as he moved through the echelons of the minor leagues, was that his patience and discipline at the plate could be construed as being "passive". Patience and discipline are good. Passive is not, at least not when you're at the plate and are, literally, supposed to be going on the offensive.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Baseball Prospectus: The Call Up (Chris Rodriguez & Bret Sayre, 1 April 2013)
The on-base ability does come with some drawbacks; his approach at the plate has been described as passive at times...
Baseball Prospect Nation: Scouting Report, Aaron Hicks (26 October 2012)
Has ability to work counts and draw walks, but not because of keen strike zone judgement or pitch recognition. Very passive approach and looks tentative in the box at times.
Aaron Gleeman: Twins Top 5 Prospects (Aaron Gleeman, 29 March 2012)
His defense, speed, and patience are all impressive, although it's possible he's actually too passive at the plate.
Baseball America: Minnesota Twins Top 10 Prospects (John Manuel, 22 November 2010)
As a hitter, his best asset is his patience, though at times he's too passive.
Baseball America: Midwest League Top 20 Prospects (Jim Callis, 1 October 2010)
While he drew an impressive 88 walks and doesn't chase pitches, he gets passive and doesn't attack pitches he could hammer when he's ahead in the count.
You get the point, right? And it's not as though much has changed in what we've seen in Hicks' time with the Twins. He's posting a superb walk rate this season, earning a free pass in 17.5% of his plate appearances while also being third on the team in walks taken, and it's buoyed his on-base percentage to the tune of a not-terrible .311.
Yet, if he's ever to become even a part of the hitter that the Twins thought he could be when they drafted him, something clearly has to change. Development takes different approaches and different amounts of time for all players, but after reading Mike Berardino's article on Hicks and the takes from both Ron Gardenhire and Rob Antony, the familiar refrain of passivity seems to be bearing fruit.
What do Gardy and Antony say? Hicks needs hits; he needs to study the game; he needs to watch more video; he needs to be better prepared mentally; he's laid back; he needs to be aggressive. The anecdote of Hicks coming to the ballpark and not knowing who's pitching is positively baffling.
Being laid back, as Antony says, in itself isn't a bad thing. Joe Mauer is laid back. But Mauer gets results as one of the best hitters in baseball over the last eleven years. When a laid back guy struggles, however, and continues to be laid back, that attitude can be misconstrued. When you combine that with a lack of preparation, there's really only one way that it can go.
So, Gardy and Hicks have had a meeting. Berardino calls it a "Come to Gardy" meeting, and it feels apt. Whether you agree with his tactics and beliefs as a manager, one thing can be agreed upon with Gardy: he doesn't accept a lack of effort. It drives him bananas. Hicks has said he's willing to do what it takes to get better.
Can he break the habits formed over years of being able to succeed and adapt by relying solely on what are, admittedly, significant talents? He needs to, because it's clear that he'll be sent to Rochester whether the Major League team has a real, full-time center fielder on the roster or not. Hicks cares and wants to win and get better, certainly, but the line has been drawn in the sand - his manager wants to see that effort and that preparation.
Here's hoping it all works out, because there is potential to be tapped in Hicks. The Twins could use a better and improved version. The time for being passive is over.