"Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you". Aaron Hicks has been the starting center fielder for the Twins the last two Opening Days. He was a thorough disappointment in 2013, eventually getting demoted to AAA and not being recalled in September. With the bar set considerably lower in 2014, Hicks still fell far short of expectations and offered a lot of content for sports analysts with his supposed lack of preparation and short-lived decision to abandon switch hitting. Hicks spent much of this summer in New Britain and Rochester, but was recalled in September. Aaron got 70 plate appearances in September with the big club. There was talk of better focus and more confidence, but the result was something short of scintillating. Hicks hit .250 with a .648 OPS. His OBP was an entirely acceptable .348, but he had only three extra-base hits in those seventy plate appearances. My "eye test" observation was equally unimpressed. Hicks hit the ball hard only a handful of times that I can remember. Getting good wood on the ball is a part of his hit tool that seems to be missing to this point.
On top of the offensive struggles, there have been whispers and inferences that Hicks is not committed to being a great baseball player. He skipped winter ball last year. He supposedly didn't know who was pitching one day and showed up late for a non-mandatory session with the training staff so that the manager felt he couldn't use him on that particular day. And then there is the switch-hitting debacle. Hicks has always been better as a right handed hitter. Many on this site thought the answer was simple--abandon switch hitting. Without consulting his manager and not discussing it with anyone else on the team, to my knowledge, Hicks decided to give up switch hitting. When it became obvious he needed work to have an acceptable chance against right handers and because he was able to rehab after a disabling injury, Hicks was sent to Double A and then optioned there when his rehab time ended. The idea was to work on the swing, but shortly after being optioned, Hicks went back to switch hitting. The platoon splits are pretty stark--Hicks' combined OPS was .615 but his OPS was .792 against left handed pitchers and only .512 vs right handers.
To me, this is the contrast between tools and skills. Everyone remarks that Hicks has tools and he does--good speed, strong throwing arm, and big athletic body. The tools are good, but they aren't exceptional, except for maybe his outstanding throwing arm. The skills haven't caught up with the tools. Maybe they never will. I think Hicks' absolute upside is Austin Jackson--supposedly the next great all-around center fielder, who has been pretty good, but never an All-Star and a guy that hasn't become a high average hitter, accomplished power hitter, stolen base threat or Gold Glove defender.
Given the Twins' dearth of outfield options, Hicks will most likely get another chance to make good on his potential. I maintain that what is best for his development and ultimately best for the team is to go to Triple A and build his confidence by dominating at that level. He has just turned 25 so there is a chance that he is a late bloomer who will thrive when he "gets it". The Twins, however, can't assume that he will. Fool them three times, shame on them.