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  • TD Top Prospects: #3 Aaron Hicks

    Age: 23 (DOB: 10/2/89)
    2012 Stats
    AA: .286/.384/.460, 13 HR, 61 RBI, 100 R, 32/43 SB
    ETA: 2013

    Aaron Hicks is a top Minnesota Twins prospect

    When it comes to physical tools, Aaron Hicks is tough to top. A muscular 6'2" outfielder with tremendous speed and an arm so strong that many teams considered drafting him as a pitcher, he's the type of player scouts salivate over.

    Will the production match the athleticism? That's a question that has followed him throughout his career as a pro, which hasn't been without its warts. After repeating a season at Low-A in 2010, the switch hitter fell off the elite prospect map by scuffling through his '11 campaign in Ft. Myers, batting just .242 with a .722 OPS and flailing from the left side of the plate.

    Last year he came roaring back, dominating the competition at Double-A with a performance so strong that he's back on the national prospect scene and suddenly in position to win a starting position on the major-league roster out of spring training.

    The Good
    During his professional debut in 2008, the 14th overall pick displayed an auspiciously advanced approach at the plate, drawing 28 walks against 32 strikeouts in 45 games in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old.

    As he's risen through the ranks, his bat has lagged at times but the uncommon adeptness for taking walks has always remained intact. In five minor-league seasons, Hicks has drawn free passes at a 15 percent overall rate. For comparison, the uber-patient Joe Mauer walked at an 11 percent rate in his brief minor-league career and has been at 12 percent in the majors.

    Check out Hicks' year-by-year league ranks in the BB% category:

    2010: 17.0% (5th in Midwest League)
    2011: 14.8% (5th in Florida State League)
    2012: 13.9% (3rd in Eastern League)

    In the three seasons where he's had enough at-bats to qualify, Hicks has been among the five most patient hitters in his league, and in nearly all cases he's been younger than anyone surrounding him on the leaderboard.

    His ability to take pitches and coax walks is a vital skill that allows him to get on base even when his batting average slumps. His overall OBP in the minors is .379 and he's never posted a mark below .353.

    Hicks' bat has been somewhat slow to develop, as he batted just .266 with 25 home runs in his first four seasons as a pro, but year represented a major breakout. If the .286/.384/.460 line with 13 homers as a 22-year-old doesn't blow you away, consider that the average batter in the Eastern League was 24.5 years old and hit .260/.330/.392. Hicks ranked fourth in the EL in OPS and was younger than any other player in the top 18. He tied for the league lead in triples (11) and ranked third in stolen bases (32). It was a monster season.

    That's not even accounting for his defense, which was typically fantastic in center field. Hicks covers tons of ground with his high-end wheels and has a cannon arm that tops the scales for many scouts (no surprise, given that he pitched in the high 90s as a prep). He's a huge defensive asset, which substantially magnifies the value of everything he provides on offense.

    With his consistently strong on-base skills, his speed and his ability to hit from both sides, Hicks profiles as an ideal leadoff hitter Ė a big part of the reason he seems like an appealing option for this year's Twins team. If his increased power and his improved proficiency against right-handers last year both prove legitimate, he could easily develop into one of the most well rounded center fielders in the major leagues.

    The Bad
    The weaknesses in Hicks' offensive game have been distinct. No. 1 on that list is strikeouts. Although he's drawn walks at an outstanding clip throughout his career, Hicks has also whiffed quite a bit, with three straight 100-K seasons.

    Overall, he's struck out in 20 percent of his plate appearances as a pro and that has taken a toll on his batting average; he hasn't approached .300 since his debut in rookie ball. Hicks batted .251 in his first turn at Low-A in 2009 and .242 in his first turn at High-A in 2011. Last year's .286 mark was certainly an improvement, but was buoyed by a .346 BABIP. As long as he keeps piling up strikeouts, Hicks will have a tough time mustering strong batting averages in the majors, which would limit his offensive upside.

    There's also the matter of hitting from both sides of the plate. Up until last year, the outfielder really struggled from the left side, and that's an issue when the vast majority of pitchers will push him into that batter's box.

    A natural righty who took up switch-hitting as a sophomore in high school, Hicks himself admitted to Baseball America in 2011 that he doesn't generate the same pop swinging lefty, though he added that he "sees the ball better and gets better at-bats from the left side."

    His splits last year were much more balanced, and we can hope that's a sign of things to come, but I suspect that holding his own against right-handers will be one of Hicks' toughest hurdles as he adapts to the majors.

    The Bottom Line
    No. 3 is higher than you'll see Hicks on most lists, but personally, I'd make a case for ranking him even higher. His combination of skills is rare, and he delivered a major statement with his performance in the Eastern League last year. It wouldn't surprise me a bit of he were a Rookie of the Year contender with the Twins this season, nor if he ultimately goes down as the best in a long succession of quality Minnesota center fielders.

    [TDís Top Ten Prospects: #10: Max Kepler]
    [TDís Top Ten Prospects: #9: Trevor May]
    [TD's Top Ten Prospects: #8: J. O. Berrios]
    [TD's Top Ten Prospects: #7 Eddie Rosario]
    [TD's Top Ten Prospects: #6 Kyle Gibson]
    [TD's Top Ten Prospects: #5 Alex Meyer]
    [TD's Top Ten Prospects: #4 Oswaldo Arcia]
    This article was originally published in blog: TD Top Prospects: #3 Aaron Hicks started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 13 Comments
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I agree with this. Guys with this upside need some patience. Think of Hunter and Span. Neither had the career at this point that Hicks has had. Warts and all. It's no exaggeration to say that the presence of Aaron hicks gave the Twins the confidence to trade two center fielders in one offseason. That's the best endorsement you can make.
    1. silverslugger's Avatar
      silverslugger -
      We all know the succession of successful Twins in CF. It sounds as though Hicks might be a combination of Puckett, Hunter, and Span with some of the best from each of them. My question. Is there a non-Twin comp from the past 20-30 years who compares more favorably to Hicks potential than any of our three beloved former Twins?
    1. Pitz's Avatar
      Pitz -
      There is a nice article by Mike Newman on FanGraphs - Like Aaron Hicks, Buxton Will Require Patience
      Newman notes that Hicks has seemed underwhelming at times probably because the expectations were so high.
      Some interesting points were that Hicks has never been less than above average at any level and in 2012 his offense was 33% better than league average.
      He then goes on to talk more about Buxton, but I was encouraged by what I read about Hicks.
    1. josecordoba's Avatar
      josecordoba -
      Hicks seems underrated to me. Last year- Denard Span had a .340 OBP with a .400 SLG yet was worth nearly 4 WAR according to Fangraphs due to plus defense in center along with baserunning. This seems like a realisitc baseline for Hicks.The guy whose skill-set Hicks actually reminds me of is Mike Cameron. Mike Cameron was a tremendous big league player worth over 50 WAR for his career. He was the third best position player on the 2001 Seattle Mariners.
    1. LimestoneBaggy's Avatar
      LimestoneBaggy -
      286 mark was certainly an improvement, but was buoyed by a .346 BABIP
      For some reason, I've totally missed his high BABIP when looking at Hicks' 2012 numbers until. However, his career in the minors has a high trending BABIP. Is he fast enough for this to be sustainable (less luck involved), is this a product of less defensive talent in the minors, or some other factor. It's interesting that players like Ben Revere and Billy Hamilton's (not nessarily presented for comp purposes) minor league careers also have high trending BABIPs.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by silverslugger View Post
      We all know the succession of successful Twins in CF. It sounds as though Hicks might be a combination of Puckett, Hunter, and Span with some of the best from each of them. My question. Is there a non-Twin comp from the past 20-30 years who compares more favorably to Hicks potential than any of our three beloved former Twins?
      The one I've heard and used in the past was Carlos Beltran. I think Beltran had a couple of 30/30 seasons, and Hicks will likely not top the 15-20 HR range. He also won't steal bases at the high percentage that Beltran did, or likely hit for as much BA. But I think a general scouting report would indicate the he can be a poor-man's Carlos Beltran.

      I really like Hicks. Spent a good ten minutes talking to him at Twins Fest, and then another couple of minutes each day. Just a terrific guy. I'd talked to him, kind of, at previous Twins Fests and he was really quiet and reserved. He spoke this year with an excitement, a poise and a confidence that I hadn't seen before. He's smart. He knows the opportunity he's been given this spring and he's excited about it. It was just kind of neat to see that change in confidence. Like he knows he belongs, and I think that's very important. I'll have an article on him in the coming days.
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      No way Hicks should be ranked above Arcia or Meyers but it's pointless to argue the rankings. As far as Hicks' BABIP two thing come to mind. First, Arron swings hard. If he makes square contact the ball gets through the infield fast. Yes he is a leadoff talent but has BJ Upton type power potential. Hicks doesn't hit a lot of slow rollers like Span and Revere. Second, he will make poor contact more often from the left side of the plate and with his speed he will beat out throws at any level. I think his BABIP will always be above average when he's healthy. That being said I'm still not sure he's ever going to harness his full abilities and be the MLB player the Twins hope. Aaron's trouble from the left side of the plate is a HUGE problem. One that will be magnified at the major league level.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      If the OBP is .38 of what difference is it that he Ks 20% or 10%? How many of said Ks are "caught looking"? I would guess higher than most since said high walk rate means he takes many close pitches. The high K rate when combined with the hitting success, indicates resilency--he likely won't be sulking because he struck-out. I do believe Hicks will spend most of this season at Rochester--partially due to said "high K rate".
    1. Twins Twerp's Avatar
      Twins Twerp -
      Ok I like to be optimistic too, especially about Twins Prospects, but "best" ...didn't Kirby play center?
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Quote Originally Posted by Pitz View Post
      There is a nice article by Mike Newman on FanGraphs - Like Aaron Hicks, Buxton Will Require Patience
      Thanks for posting that link. I like the talk about the "game" they play before the actual baseball game. My townball team plays the same thing while our opponent is taking their infield, we call it "2-ball". Our rules are if you miss or drop the ball, or make a bad toss, you turn your cap 90 degrees. Once the hat comes full circle around your head it's taken off, then after your next fault you are out. Good times, though I never win...
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Twins Twerp View Post
      Ok I like to be optimistic too, especially about Twins Prospects, but "best" ...didn't Kirby play center?
      I didn't say he'd go down as the best CF in franchise history, just that he has a chance to be the best in their current succession (Hunter, Gomez, Span, Revere). Even that's admittedly pretty optimistic, but from my view Hicks has all the requisite skills. For those who doubt his power, I would say nearly doubling his previous career high for homers in his first year in a tough league for hitters is a good sign that he's still growing in that department.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by silverslugger View Post
      Is there a non-Twin comp from the past 20-30 years who compares more favorably to Hicks potential than any of our three beloved former Twins?
      I read somwhere, and I'll try to find it, where he was compared to Eric Davis. When I read that, I was a bit baffled, but I'll try and find it to share.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Clearly Aaron Hicks is an intelligent, perceptive ballplayer, which is why he is able to read a pitcher's balance, lateral motion and mechanics well enough to predict out-of-zone pitches.

      Whiffing on pitches comes from a flaw in a different skill set. Getting your hands to the right place for good contact requires developing a habit of tracking every pitch as if you're going to offer. Joe Mauer, of course, is great at that. Is he whiffing on pitches in the zone, or out of it? It may come down to a problem with his balance or stance. I'm guessing Hicks will cut down his whiffs with more experience.

      Meanwhile, it's hard not to feel giddy about this young man's future. Now more than ever, Twins pitchers will want a fast man with a great arm in center field.
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