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  • Aaron Hicks and Rebounding

    Most Twins fans will recall that Torii Hunter was a vital part of Minnesota's turnaround and success in the 2000s, from his breakout season in '01 through his departure in '07.

    It's a little tougher to remember the beginning of Hunter's major-league career, which was far less glamorous. After drawing a handful of appearances with the Twins in 1997 and '98, Hunter made the full-time leap as a 22-year-old in 1999. During his first two seasons, he hit .267/.313/.393 with 14 homers in 234 games. He was demoted back to Triple-A in his second year. He looked overwhelmed.

    Hunter rebounded after returning from his demotion in 2000, raising his OPS from .543 in late July to .726 at season's end. Since then, he has never finished with a mark below .762. He's been above .800 nine times (so far) and appeared in five All-Star games (so far).

    In other words, Aaron Hicks shouldn't get too dispirited over his rocky big-league debut in 2013.

    To be fair, Hicks' numbers (.192/.259/.338) are much uglier than Hunter's during his initial rough patch. However, Hunter was playing in a stronger offensive environment, so in context the difference is not as vast as it might appear (Hunter's OPS+ was 76; Hicks finished last year at 65).

    Both Hunter and Hicks entered the majors as athletic young center fielders with great promise. Both exhibited the type of tentative plate approach and proneness to mistakes that are typical of inexperienced rookies. So Hunter's ability to endure and put together a hell of a career should serve as an inspiration for Hicks and a placation for disenchanted fans.

    Then again, while the situations are similar in a general sense, there are certainly more red flags in the case of Hicks.

    Whereas Hunter was a visibly raw specimen who had struggled at times with controlling the strike zone in the minors, Hicks was touted as a polished product. But during his initial stint in the majors, his plate discipline -- a calling card throughout the minors -- was nowhere to be found. The rookie struck out at a much higher rate last year than Hunter has at any point in his career.

    In addition, Hicks did not respond as well (or at least as immediately) to his demotion. When Hunter was sent down in 2000 following a poor start to his sophomore campaign, he absolutely raked in Triple-A, putting up a 1.130 OPS in 55 games to earn a recall. He hit far better in the second half with the Twins and the rest is history.

    Hicks didn't experience the same kind of success following his demotion last year. He went to Rochester, hit .222/.317/.333 in 22 games, was not recalled in September and then skipped winter ball. It was about as bad a season as one could possibly imagine, and it left a sour aftertaste.

    But the bottom line with Hunter, and countless other players, is that early struggles at the highest level are hardly a death knell. That's especially true when you're talking about a 23-year-old who skipped Triple-A on his way to the bigs, as Hicks did.

    Patience is key. Yet the Twins can't and won't exercise endless patience. By this time next year, Byron Buxton may already be entrenched as the long-term center fielder, and there are plenty of emerging contenders to fill the corner spots. If Hicks is unable to bounce back quickly and reestablish himself as an organizational fixture, he could easily be passed up by other outfielders in a crowded system.

    That will make him one of the most intriguing players to keep an eye on in the early part of the 2014 season.
    This article was originally published in blog: Aaron Hicks and Rebounding started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 68 Comments
    1. B Richard's Avatar
      B Richard -
      Skipping winter ball is a little bit of a head scratcher for me, especially when the team recommended it. You would think after a season of struggles he'd be eager to improve his game. Maybe he just wanted to work out on his own terms, who knows. I will say, however, having watched him in person several times during the year, he has all the tools to succeed at the big league level. I've seen him turn on triple digit heat and pull it down the right field line, and I have seen him hit breaking stuff (struggles nonwithstanding...). He is athletic enough to make plays in the field, he just needs to find himself. Maybe some time off was all he needed. Let's hope he's a part of this team's future- he could certainly be a valuable asset.
    1. wagwan's Avatar
      wagwan -
      I believe that the article misses the fact that Hicks did rebound in AAA eventually and was one of the Wings top players heading into the playoffs. He should be expected to be at the top of the mix for the center field job.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      My guess is he hasnt had an off season since he was drafted...Might be just what the doctor ordered....go Hick
    1. lightfoot789's Avatar
      lightfoot789 -
      Quote Originally Posted by johnnydakota View Post
      My guess is he hasnt had an off season since he was drafted...Might be just what the doctor ordered....go Hick
      Could not have said it better. Let's look at all the guys who play winterball:

      Do they seem to hit the wall during thier full seasons?

      I predict a monster year for Hicks for just that reason. REST (mental & physical)
    1. shs_59's Avatar
      shs_59 -
      Hicks , assuming last season's massive over-rush didn't completely ruin him, will one day be an adequate or quality big leaguer. It might be 3 years from now, but it will happen eventually.

      I tried to preach patience with him this time last year, but several fans ended up getting their wish (big league debut) instead of Rochester debut and it went as i predicted horribly wrong.

      If you go back to this time last year, even after the fraudulent Spring-training and send him to AAA rochester i guarantee you he would of hitt better than .222/.317/.333

      It really is all too bad, really.
    1. blindeke's Avatar
      blindeke -
      Plus, what was the rush exactly? Twins weren't (and aren't) going anywhere. (.... yet.)
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Quote Originally Posted by wagwan View Post
      I believe that the article misses the fact that Hicks did rebound in AAA eventually and was one of the Wings top players heading into the playoffs. He should be expected to be at the top of the mix for the center field job.
      What? He had 4 games at the end of the year he got hits in. I guess if you call that rebounding and being a top player we should sign Juan Castro and hand him the starting SS role again. You don't have an OPS of .650 after only 72 AB's and feel confident because of a 4 game stretch (which accounted for 15 of those AB's... think how terrible the other 57 were!). He also struck out 21 times in AAA. This wasn't simply not doing very well, it was complete failure.

      As for him rebounding. His success lies in his ability to hit RH pitching. His struggles are well documented on this site. I'm not a huge believer that he will somehow figure it out this late in the game. The Twins should have forced him to stop switch hitting when it was evident he was very good at it. There is still hope, but I'm on the boat that sees his future as a replacement level player (which really is ok).
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by blindeke View Post
      Plus, what was the rush exactly? Twins weren't (and aren't) going anywhere. (.... yet.)
      The rush was mostly unnecessary. The Twins had traded two center fielders in the off season, leaving the system as a whole a little thin at the top end. Coming into spring training, they expected Mastroianni to take the job and Hicks to maybe get a midseason call-up. That plan was derailed by two events: Hicks raked in spring training and Masto broke his leg on the last day of spring. Lacking a quality replacement for Mastro, they were forced to go with Hicks.

      I say it was unnecessary because they did not have a back-up plan in case of injury. Well, they did, but it was Clete Thomas. And that was the mistake. They should have signed someone better than Clete to replace Revere. If Hicks earned his way up misdseason, great. But don't force it. But they were extremely hopeful Hicks would be able to make the jump over AAA. Given his history, it was a long shot from the start.

      I remember his first day like it was yesterday: Verlander threw him one big hook after another that Pitch FX said were six inches outside and the ump called him out on strikes three times. After that, he expanded the strike zone so bad he couldn't hit anything for 10 days, until Bruno got him back in the groove with the plate discipline that is the foundation of his game.

      The fact that he recovered from the worst opening to a season that I've ever seen (in the lead-off role no less), makes me confident he can do this. Hopefully this year. But please, not out of spring training. Give him two months to rake at AAA and then bring him up.
    1. Linus's Avatar
      Linus -
      Two thoughts on Aaron Hicks:
      1. His experience shows there can be a cost for rushing prospects. Last year was essentially a lost year for him developmentally for him and it substantially increases the pressure on him for the upcoming season.
      2. His future is not in a corner outfield spot as he will likely never produce offensively enough to realize maximum value or highest and best use. Best case scenario is that he shows promise in centerfield and the Twins can trade him for a top pitching prospect when Buxton is ready. Seeing what the Twins got for Span / Revere, that wouldn't be all bad.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      I think it's impossible to predict what Hicks is going to do this season. If there's a guy whose 2014 is completely unpredictable, it's Aaron Hicks. He could be a .725-.750 OPS player. He could be exposed against righties and struggle to clear .600. Given his 2013 and how volatile it was from start to finish, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from him.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      Quote Originally Posted by shs_59 View Post
      Hicks , assuming last season's massive over-rush didn't completely ruin him, will one day be an adequate or quality big leaguer. It might be 3 years from now, but it will happen eventually.

      I tried to preach patience with him this time last year, but several fans ended up getting their wish (big league debut) instead of Rochester debut and it went as i predicted horribly wrong.

      If you go back to this time last year, even after the fraudulent Spring-trainging and send him to AAA rochester i guarantee you he would of hitt better than .222/.317/.333

      It really is all too bad, really.
      Hicks earned an opening day start by having the best ST out of the entire roster. You really would have started him in AAA and had Clete Thomas as the opening day CF? They did bat him lead off way too long and probably should have demoted him sooner but he's got skills, he should be at least OK at some point in the near future with a lot of upside.
    1. Nate Haseman's Avatar
      Nate Haseman -
      I think that heading into Spring Training and the regular season with the experience of dealing with failure at the Major League level will be really beneficial for him. I'm sure that as a young toolsy prospect with such a high ceiling he put an immense amount of pressure on himself. Hopefully he's using this off season to put some things in perspective and comes in with a clear head: see the ball, hit the ball, one pitch at a time.
    1. maars's Avatar
      maars -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      What? He had 4 games at the end of the year he got hits in. I guess if you call that rebounding and being a top player we should sign Juan Castro and hand him the starting SS role again. You don't have an OPS of .650 after only 72 AB's and feel confident because of a 4 game stretch (which accounted for 15 of those AB's... think how terrible the other 57 were!). He also struck out 21 times in AAA. This wasn't simply not doing very well, it was complete failure.
      This is obviously cherry-picking, but if you look at his last 10 games (35 AB/41PA) Hicks put up a line of .342/.439/.600. He struck out 22% of the time, but he was making much better contact in Rochester's last four series. 7 of his 8 extra-base hits in AAA came in those last 10 games. It's not the biggest of rebounds, but it does give me some hope that he was starting to climb out of his slump and figure things out.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by troyhobbs View Post
      Hicks earned an opening day start by having the best ST out of the entire roster. You really would have started him in AAA and had Clete Thomas as the opening day CF? They did bat him lead off way too long and probably should have demoted him sooner but he's got skills, he should be at least OK at some point in the near future with a lot of upside.
      A lot of people thought he should start in AAA. 50 ABs in March against rusty/bad pitching don't mean squat, really.

      I wanted to see him in AAA until Mastro went down, then I waffled. But there were legitimate reasons to keep him in the minors to start 2013 no matter who was "in front" of him on the depth chart. Aaron Hicks has not adjusted to new levels well in his career and asking him to skip a level and go directly to the highest level of competition was a pretty tall order.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      I do remember cautioning that Hicks wasn't the player that he showed in spring training just like I cautioned in 2011 the Valencia wasn't going to bat .350 for a whole season.. I don't think I objected to him making the team to start the season but I do remember the VAST majority of the Strib posters being very adamant that Hicks should be the Twins Opening Day centerfielder so either your memory was faulty or you were on different boards than I was.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      Quote Originally Posted by johnnydakota View Post
      My guess is he hasnt had an off season since he was drafted...Might be just what the doctor ordered....go Hick
      Per Twinsbaseball.com that is exactly the case--he had never had an off-season and wanted one. I think it was the right move for him. Barring injuries, start him in Rochester and bring him up during the summer (after trading Willingham??).
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Linus View Post

      2. His future is not in a corner outfield spot as he will likely never produce offensively enough to realize maximum value or highest and best use. Best case scenario is that he shows promise in centerfield and the Twins can trade him for a top pitching prospect when Buxton is ready. Seeing what the Twins got for Span / Revere, that wouldn't be all bad.
      I think you overrate the average corner outfielder. Span was a better than average centerfielder but his speed also made him a superior corner outfielder. He got to way more balls than Cuddyer could have and it saved a lot of outs even with Cuddyer throwing out guys. Buxton and Hicks would be a great tandem and allow our pitchers to throw strikes with a lot more confidence. If Hicks offense is not enough to support him being in a corner spot then it won't support him being in centerfield either.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      "I remember his first day like it was yesterday: Verlander threw him one big hook after another that Pitch FX said were six inches outside and the ump called him out on strikes three times. After that, he expanded the strike zone so bad he couldn't hit anything for 10 days," Again, I compare it to Valencia in 2010. He got a lot of seeing eye and infield singles so he didn't have to stress about his average and then started getting comfortable. Joe Mauer starting 2-26 is worlds apart from rookie Hicks starting that way. Though I know it would never happen I remember thinking at the time that maybe they should let Hicks skip the opening series so he wouldn't have to face some of the best pitching in baseball to start out his career. I also remember the umps screwing him and thinking the same thing you did. These guys aren't machines and things like that do make an impact on the psyche.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I remember his first day like it was yesterday: Verlander threw him one big hook after another that Pitch FX said were six inches outside and the ump called him out on strikes three times. After that, he expanded the strike zone so bad he couldn't hit anything for 10 days, until Bruno got him back in the groove with the plate discipline that is the foundation of his game.

      1st K



      2nd K (looking)



      3rd K


      FWIW I give Hicks a pass on striking out against JV in his first 3 PAs. But it wasn't the umpire screwing up his compass, he just plain got beat.

      I'd add, if 3 Ks in that game was what sent him into a 2 month slump, then maybe he doesn't have the fortitude or aggression to stick as a regular. Would love to be proved wrong though.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dantes929 View Post
      I do remember cautioning that Hicks wasn't the player that he showed in spring training just like I cautioned in 2011 the Valencia wasn't going to bat .350 for a whole season.. I don't think I objected to him making the team to start the season but I do remember the VAST majority of the Strib posters being very adamant that Hicks should be the Twins Opening Day centerfielder so either your memory was faulty or you were on different boards than I was.
      Well, I was on this board, which has mixed feelings about everything right down to what day it is today. If you ask around I'm sure you'll find someone who has very strong feelings about the Julian calendar.
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