When Aaron Hicks was drafted 14th overall by the Twins in 2008, there were glowing reports about his athletic ability, speed - in both his legs and his wrists at the plate, his arm strength, and projectable tools. There were also concerns about his approach or, perhaps more accurately, lack thereof; scouts were concerned that perhaps Hicks was getting by high school competition with his significant advantage in talent, and that he wasn't necessarily using his those gifts to their best.
That cautious optimism was played out over the next couple years in the minor leagues. Hicks mixed strong walk rates with up-and-down power and contact skills, and his speed on the base paths led to stolen bases that were, at best, a wash considering how often he was caught. The batting average was all over the board from 2008 through 2012, as was the power, but he consistently put up good on-base percentages: .409, .353, .401, .354, .384. Still, even that asset was questioned: was it being patient, or was it being passive?
Coming out of the 2012 campaign the Twins had lost 99 and then 96 games. Hicks, at Double-A, had hit .286/.384/.460 as a 22-year old. The front office gambled on the future and traded both Denard Span and Ben Revere. In spite of having a little more experience in Darin Mastroianni, the narrative was that Hicks earned the starting job in center field.
Hicks hit .192/.259/.338 in 81 games before getting sent to Triple-A, his first taste of minor league ball above Double-A.
When the following off-season came around, the front office failed to bring in another center field option, lost Alex Presley (who had performed adequately), and eventually lost Darin Mastroianni. Hicks, forced into starting in center field on Opening Day for the second season in a row, hit .198/.338/.262 in 48 games before getting sent down again - this time, to Double-A. Maybe you can credit the organization for having faith in a young player with enough talent to build around in the future, but the shocking lack of a backup plan left the team scrambling when the Hicks experiment proved itself to be, yet again, premature.
To his credit Hicks raked in Double-A, did well enough in Triple-A, and then, this time earning a September callup, hit a respectable .250/.348/.300 in his final 20 games with the Twins this fall.
That the Twins lucked out with an over-performing Sam Fuld, Jordan Schafer, and Danny Santana should not excuse the front office from a lack of vision when it came to having a backup plan for center field. Twins fans picked up on this, and perhaps that added to the frustration heaped onto Hicks; the whole situation was a microcosm of the mistakes that have helped to gloss over the good things that the front office has done in recent years. The vision, or lack thereof, in the lackluster execution of a roster plan failed the team and Aaron Hicks IN 2014.
It's worth noting that there are some good things to take away from Hicks' performance in 2014.
- Hicks led the team in walk rate (16%)
- One of six Twins with an on-base percentage over .340
- Fifth on the team in walks (36) in spite of playing just 69 games
- Led the team in fewest swings at pitches outside the strike zone (20%)
What's his role for the 2015 team?
Hicks has, at times, appeared to lack motivation. I say "appears" because that take is based entirely on anecdotal evidence. From passing on opportunities to play off-season baseball in the past, to going into a plate appearance without a game plan, to choosing (seemingly at random) to give up and then take up again switch hitting, there have been a number of times in Hicks' career where the appearance was given that baseball was a hobby and not a job.