Could Aaron Hicks Be An Opening Day starter?
This offseason, some minor leaguers have provided plenty of excitement. Kyle Gibson looked dominant in his first Arizona Fall League starts before a rough start yesterday. But he isn't the only player making some noise in a winter league as Aaron Hicks has put together some strong numbers in the Venezuelan League during his first handful of games. This comes on the heels of his best season as a professional while playing at the Double-A level for the Twins. As was mentioned on Twins Daily last week, his stock will be rising this offseason so it is interesting to consider where he could end up at the beginning of next season.
The Twins have a surplus of outfielders at the moment so some of the players at the major league level would need to be moved before the start of next year. Could that open up the opportunity for Hicks to begin the season as a starting outfielder for the Minnesota Twins?
Since the Twins took Hicks with their first round pick back in 2008, things haven't gone perfectly for the toolsy outfielder from California. The problem hasn't been defensive; he was named by Baseball America as the top defensive outfielder and having the best outfield arm in the Twins system at the conclusion of last season.
However, the offensive side of the ball has been a little sketchy on his way through the minors. He is a switch hitter so finding his stroke from the left side of the plate was a little bit of a challenge. Something clicked this year and the organization finally started to see the player they were looking for when they took him in the first half of the first round of the draft.
Hicks saw his batting average rise 44 points from the 2011 season to finish at the highest point since he started playing in full season leagues back in 2009. Reports have him shortening up his stroke from the left side to make more contact and this helped to get on base at a more consistent rate from both sides of the plate.
After hitting 41 extra-base hits in 2011, he hit 45 extra-base hits in 2012 and he hit double digits in home runs for the first time in his career. Last year, he hit 31 doubles and only five home runs while this year his home runs went up to 13 and his doubles dropped to 21 for the year. His speed has always been a threat and he set the Rock Cats record for triples in one season with 11 three baggers.
He has gotten almost 40 at-bats in Venezuela and his line is consistent with his minor league track record. There has been a little bit of power with a home run and a couple doubles. Hicks is also getting on-base at a .370 mark but he is striking out in a third of his at-bats. He has three multi-hit games so far and it's nice to see him getting a few stolen bases. So far in this league, he has reached base 17 times and he has scored a run in almost half of those appearances on the base paths. His team, the Bravos de Margarita, is in first place at the moment so he is having the opportunity to play for a winning team in a very competitive league.
It's a long shot that Hicks would gain serious consideration for a starting spot unless injuries struck, but there are some factors in his favor. During spring training the last two years, Hicks has been part of the major league camp for at least a portion of the schedule. This has given Ron Gardenhire a closer look at the young outfielder and now the coaching staff at the major league level is composed of plenty of men with minor league experience so they could be even more familiar with the ins-and-outs of Mr. Hicks. If the coaches and front office think the time is right, Hicks could get an extra long look for the job as starting outfielder for the Twins.
With Denard Span, Ben Revere, Josh Willingham, and Chris Parmelee all ahead of Hicks on the outfield depth chart, there would need to be some kind of trade to make room. Willingham might be a prime trade candidate after having a career year in 2012 and Span's name has been out in the rumor mill for more than one season. The Twins have made it clear that they need more starting pitching for 2013 and the surplus of outfielders seems like the most likely place to find value on the trade market. Justin Morneau could also be dealt to free up a spot for Parmelee in the infield and this could give Hicks a quicker path to a starting role in Minnesota.
But the Twins have been patient with Hicks since they drafted him four seasons ago and it seem most likely for the club to continue this philosophy for the beginning of next year. Hicks hasn't made an appearance at the Triple-A level so it seems more likely for him to get the opportunity to prove himself at that level before being asked to come up to the major leagues. If the Twins were seriously thinking about him being a starter for 2013, there is a good chance he would have been given a call-up at the end of this year.
It's still great to be having a positive conversation about Hicks after multiple disappointing years in the minors. He seems to have turned the corner and fingers are crossed for him to continue on the path to making his debut sometime in 2013.