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2015 Stock Market Report: Aaron Hicks

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The failures of Aaron Hicks have been a result of poor player development as much as they've been an issue with Hicks' talent. Where does that leave him for 2015?

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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.

2014

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.

Competition

Danny Santana, Jordan Schafer, Byron Buxton, Wilkin Ramirez

When it comes to Opening Day, the only guys who will be up against Hicks will be Santana and, if he's still on the roster, Schafer. Ramirez, if he's still on the team and added to the 40-man roster, could be a dark horse; he made the Opening Day squad in 2013. But no matter who gets the role, they're all just keeping the seat warm for Byron Buxton.

If the Twins don't bring in another external option to challenge for the starting job in center, Hicks' fate as it's tied to that job could actually depend on what the organization wants to do at shortstop. With his brilliant rookie season in the books, Santana will get the start somewhere - even if the club would prefer that start to be at Santana's natural position.

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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%)
Answering the question of Can Aaron Hicks build on his 2014 is more an academic question at the moment, and will have more to do with his long-term value for that team than how it will affect next season, but it's worth considering. Because it could be the difference between being a starter or a background character.

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.

Maybe that's starting to change. Hicks seems a bit more committed this off-season, as he's chosen to play Winter Ball (and doing pretty well). You always like to think that young, talented players want to make the most of their opportunities, and nothing would make the Twins or Twins fans happier than to see Aaron Hicks take the proverbial bull by the horns.

Whether my assessment of Hicks is accurate or not, and whether Hicks is ready to step up or not, he's still the only Major League-ready center fielder on the roster with any upside. Danny Santana isn't a natural center fielder and shouldn't be tasked with that job unless something goes dreadfully wrong, and Jordan Schafer may or may not be tendered a contract through arbitration.

If the Twins surprise some people and bring in Colby Rasmus out of free agency, maybe Hicks starts the year in left instead of center, but one way or another he's going to be on the roster. Here's to hoping that the third time is the charm.