Twins Daily Awards 2015: Most Improved Player
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn, USA TodayShow of hands, Twins Daily readers… How many of you had completely given up on Aaron Hicks after his first two big league seasons? I’m sure we could do a quick review of the Twins Daily forums from 2013 through spring training of 2015 and find a few threads on the subject.
Aaron Hicks was considered a top prospect since the Twins made him the 14th overall pick in the 2008 draft out of high school in Long Beach, California. He was a Top 50 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America before the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons.
After falling out of the Top 100 for a year, he came in at number 72 before the 2013 season. That was following a 2012 season in which he was the Twins minor league hitter of the year. In AA New Britain, he filled up the stat line very well. He hit .286/.384/.460 (.844) with 21 doubles, 11 triples, 13 home runs and 32 stolen bases. He scored 100 runs and drove in 61. That offseason, the Twins traded two starting centerfielders, Denard Span and Ben Revere, opening the door for Hicks. He had a huge spring training in 2013 and won the Opening Day centerfield job.
In a meeting with the media before Saturday’s game, General Manager Terry Ryan was asked what a biggest misconception is about prospects. “Not all of them succeed. There’s no doubt about that. This is tough up here. No matter what you do in the minor leagues, you still have to prove it every step of the way whether you’re going from A-ball to AA, which is a pretty big jump. Then the biggest jump is from AAA to the Major Leagues.”
Hicks made the jump from AA to the big leagues and really struggled. That final jump to big leaguer is the most difficult. In 150 big league games between 2013 and 2014, he hit a combined .201/.293/.323 (.606).
The Twins reversed strategy in spring training in 2015. Though he had a solid spring, the organization decided it was best for Hicks to begin the season at AAA. In 38 games, he hit .342/.405/.544 (.948) with 13 doubles, four triples and three home runs. On May 12, he made his return to the big leagues.
He went on the Disabled List twice this season, but in 97 total games with the Twins, he hit .256/.323/.398 (.721) with 11 doubles, three triples and 11 home runs. He also stole 13 bases.
Just as important, he has greatly improved his defense. Consider his Defensive WAR (per FanGraphs) has gone from -5.7 in 2013 to -3.6 in 2014 to +2.1 in 2015. From year to year, that’s a significant improvement.
His Offensive WAR (per FanGraphs) has gone from -10.2 in 2013 to -2.8 in 2014 to -0.8 in 2015.
Often considered passive, Hicks incorporated a leg kick and a more aggressive approach. His walk rate dropped from 16% to about 9%. However, his strikeout percentage also dropped from 26% to about 17% Not only did he swing at more pitches, but he swung harder, looking to attack the ball rather than just put it in play.
Hicks told me over the weekend that he began to worry less about striking out, realizing it was just another out. As soon as he stopped worrying about it so much and having fun, his strikeouts dropped.
Hicks also gave a lot of credit to Torii Hunter for his and his team’s success. There are a lot of factors that can help explain Hicks’ improvement. Terry Ryan was asked about what he noticed in Hicks in 2015.
“His confidence level has taken a positive note. There’s no doubt that he looks like he belongs. I think he feels like he belongs. I think Torii (Hunter), Paul (Molitor) and Butch Davis and the people directly responsible for him should get some credit, but most of all, he ought to get some credit. There’s a chance that he felt (Byron) Buxton. Some of that stuff is always a piece, and he doesn’t want to see anybody go by him, I wouldn’t think.”
Ryan continued, “For the most part, we got some of that switch-hitting stuff out of the equation. I think he feels comfortable from both sides. It’s about his turn. What is he now, 26? That’s about the time you’re either going to make or break it. You get into that age area, do you want to be a guy or don’t you. It’s pretty much up to him. He’s had ample opportunity, I think everyone would agree with that. He’s done something with it. He’s had a nice little go here.”
Aaron Hicks took big strides forward in 2015, offensively and defensively. It was an important season for him. What is very exciting for Twins fans is that Hicks has the ability to continue to improve. There’s no question that with his athleticism and talent, he can be even better. The biggest thing he will need to do is improve his consistency over the course of the season.
Twins Daily would like to congratulate Aaron Hicks on his forward strides during the 2015 season.
Tell us what you think. Was Aaron Hicks the Twins Most Improved Player in 2015 or would another candidate get your vote. Below are the votes of each of our eight voters and the final results.
1.) Aaron Hicks 23
2.) Mike Pelfrey 8
3.) Eduardo Escobar/Kyle Gibson 6
4.) Trevor May/Tommy Milone 2
5.) Eduardo Nunez 1
Seth Stohs: 1.) Aaron Hicks, 2.) Mike Pelfrey, 3.) Tommy Milone
Nick Nelson: 1.) Aaron Hicks, 2.) Mike Pelfrey, 3.) Kyle Gibson
John Bonnes: 1.) Eduardo Escobar, 2.) Aaron Hicks, 3.) Mike Pelfrey
Parker Hageman: 1.) Aaron Hicks, 2.) Mike Pelfrey, 3.) Tommy Milone
Jeremy Nygaard: 1.) Aaron Hicks, 2.) Eduardo Escobar, 3.) Kyle Gibson
Cody Christie: 1.) Aaron Hicks, 2.) Kyle Gibson, 3.) Mike Pelfrey
Eric Pleiss: 1.) Aaron Hicks, 2.) Kyle Gibson, 3.) Eduardo Nunez
Steve Lien: 1.) Aaron Hicks, 2.) Trevor May, 3.) Eduardo Escobar
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