Thursday, April 11, 2013

The state of the lineup

The Twins came into Kansas City scoring some runs and immediately stopped. One run on Monday, four on Tuesday, zero on Wednesday -- and three losses.

They did hit three homers on Tuesday, but they couldn't muster baserunners in front of the longballs. They left the bases strewn with runners Wednesday -- they loaded the bases in both the first and second innings and obviously came up empty.

These things suggest that the Kansas City run drought is just one of those random things.

And then there's Aaron Hicks, the rookie centerfielder and leadoff outmaker who is becoming the focal point of the Twins' April. He took another oh-fer Wednesday -- he's now 2-for-35, .057, with 16 strikeouts -- and drew the ire of Ron Gardenhire by not, in Gardy's view, hustling sufficiently on a popup to center that the Royals outfielder muffed. (Hicks did make it to second base.)

Hicks has a history of slow starts in the minors, and he is skipping Triple A completely, but this level of nonproduction is way out of line with expectations. His brilliant spring training had some people on Twitter evoking Mike Trout, which was unreasonable. Hicks ain't that good. He also ain't this bad.

The question now is: What do the Twins do? Consider the options:

  1. Stick with Hicks, not only as the regular center fielder but in the leadoff slot. (This is becoming less tenable by the day.)
  2. Keep Hicks in center but drop him to the bottom of the lineup. (Then who hits leadoff, Brian Dozier?)
  3. Send him to Triple A and call up Joe Benson. (Benson's hitting something like .125 in Rochester.)
  4. Send him to Triple A and call up Clete Thomas for a platoon-type role with Darin Mastroanni. (Thomas had the same kind of no-contact slump with the Twins last year.)

None of these choices are attractive.

The reality is that, once the Twins traded both Denard Span and Ben Revere, they hitched their center field job to Hicks. They can't afford to have him fail.

My take: As long as the slump isn't wrecking Hicks psychologically -- and I'm not anywhere near close enough to make that judgment -- the Twins should stick with option 1. But if the nonhustle play indicates that he's starting to mope, he should be sent down for some Triple A time.

And if that happens, I'd rather see if bringing Benson up lights a fire under him than muddle around with Thomas. I say that on the basis that the Twins' primary concern on every decision they make should be less about 2013 and more about the following years.


  1. How about teaching Mauer to swing at some grooved pitches early in the count when the bases are loaded, especially when the game is on the line like late Tuesday? Two strikeouts in the past two games in that situation should not be blown off by the coaching staff. Hopefully Bruno and Gardy both had some words for him in that respect after the second time it happened. I know he is a contact hitter, and he does well late in the count, but if he jumps on the first pitch down the middle, good things probably have a better chance of happening in that situation.

  2. We've got a lot of hopes pinned on young Aaron Hicks. He's got the tools, I'm told. Maybe the thing to do is to send him to Rochester for a time, let him get his feet back under himself and regain some confidence. He'll be back; centerfield is his when he can really take hold of it. But I don't know how he would take to the demotion. Could he handle it mentally and come back stronger than ever? Torii didn't stick at first, either, and neither did Denard. Hicks hasn't spent any time at AAA, maybe that's the seasoning he needs.