Thursday, July 11, 2013

Contemplating Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks made an impressive catch
off Kelly Johnson in the 10th inning Wednesday
to keep the game alive. The Twins still lost
in the 13th inning.
Aaron Hicks got his batting average above the Mendoza Line this week. Wednesday night's 1-for-5 (with two strikeouts) performance left the rookie center fielder with a slash line of .203/.270/.369, which isn't good but is a darn sight better than the .042/.179/.042 he sported on the morning of April 21.

That low point in his statistical line was 48 official at-bats, 56 plate appearances. He fell off the cliff with his first step into the major leagues, and he hasn't yet climbed back into respectability. (Missing most of June as he seemed to be getting going didn't help much either.)

Since then, he's gone 43-for-174, a batting average slightly under .250. His slash line entering Wednesday's game (Baseball Reference hadn't be updated as of this writing) since April 21 was .249/.301/.469.

That is acceptable production for a 23-year-old center fielder, but it does not signal a leadoff hitter's skill set, which is what I expected to see. Hicks has drawn 20 walks so far; even accounting for the time lost to his hamstring pull last month, that's a good bit fewer than I would have expected, given his minor league track record.

That track record, of course, is riddled with slow starts and repeated leagues. Hicks spent two full seasons in low-A ball, spluttered in high-A, had a slow start in Double A — and then jumped straight to the majors on the strength of a spectacular spring training and the lack of a realistic alternative. In retrospect, the jump was too much to ask of him.

But he has improved in the major league crucible, and he's young enough to get better.

He'll have to get better. A .249/.301/.469 center fielder with quality defense can play (and hit in the bottom half of the lineup); those same numbers won't do for a corner outfielder, and with Byron Buxton on his way, Hicks doesn't figure to be the Twins' long-term center fielder. He'll either play an outfield corner or move on to another team.

I can see Hicks developing into a .260 hitter with 20 homers, 20 steals and 80 walks; that can play in an outfield corner, especially paired with center-field quality defense.

It wouldn't be a classic leadoff hitter's line, but it could fit there. Or, if Buxton is to be the leadoff man, it would definitely work in the lower half of the order. 

But Hicks isn't there yet. And maybe he'll never get there. His journey is one of the most important things to follow in the second half of the Twins season.

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