|Aaron Hicks unloads his third home run of the game|
Thursday. It was his fifth homer in three games.
Yes, he hit three home runs (two of them, to be sure, wind-aided). Yes, he added a single and a stolen base. It was a wonderful box score line: 5 4 4 6, 3 HR, 1 SB.
But he also made a bad throw from center field, a throw so off target it was actually handled by the left fielder.
Not perfect. But far better than the play of Joe Benson in the Twins other exhibition on a split-squad Thursday; Benson whiffed three times and lost a fly ball in the sun.
As matters stand — and matters stand a bit more than three weeks from Opening Day, plenty of time for things to change — Hicks is winning the center field competition over Benson and Darin Mastroianni, who has been sidelined by a hamstring strain.
Hicks is compiling stats, but that's the least of it. He's working counts and grinding out at-bats. He's covering ground in the outfield and running the bases well. He's displaying good body language. He's doing the things a player needs to do to justify making the jump from Double A to the majors.
Still, there are those observers who doubt that Hicks will get to skip Triple A. For one major thing, waiting a couple of months to call him up might save the Twins more than $2 million in salary in 2015, and even more in following seasons, by delaying his arbitration eligibility. Pat Reusse wondered Thursday on Twitter what kind of whopper general manager Terry Ryan will come up with to explain Hicks' eventual demotion.
I don't share that skepticism.
It is worth remembering that, after Ryan traded away both Denard Span and Ben Revere this winter, he assured Ron Gardenhire that if Hicks was the best center field candidate this spring, Ryan would not keep him off the roster.
At this point, Hicks is clearly the best center field candidate — not only the best, as I've said here before, in the long run, but the best right now. Unless he suddenly breaks his established character at the plate and develops Benson's lack of strike zone judgment, he'll be the center fielder on Opening Day.