Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A switch-hitter's switch

Aaron Hicks makes a diving catch in center field
during Monday afternoon's game.
The latest touch of the bizarre for the Twins outfield came Monday morning when Aaron Hicks announced that he is giving up on hitting left-handed.

It's easier to understand Hicks' surrender than to be optimistic about it, even after he collected two singles off a right-handed pitcher Monday. He is a natural righty, and he has a long-standing pattern, majors and minors, of hitting better from the right side.

The problem: Hicks is 24 and has been a switch-hitter since childhood; he has never before seen a slider break away from him.

To put it bluntly, Hicks is in a career crisis. It is not going to be an easy transition, and I doubt the Twins management encouraged this move -- at least not in midseason in the majors. Giving up switch-hitting may be the right move for Hicks, but doing so at the highest level is not the right place.

And yet there is no real alternative. The Twins, through misfortune and their own mistakes, have no real option for center other than Hicks.

I'm quite certain they figured during the winter that if Hicks repeated his 2013 failure they would have Byron Buxton straining at the leash to come to the show by midseason. But Buxton has spent most of the season on the shelf with a wrist injury. Eddie Rosario would have been a plausible option, but he's wrapping up his 50-game drug suspension and has yet to play outside of extended spring training.

The Twins brought in no minor league free agents who can play center. (That may not have been entirely the Twins' decision; such players and their agents look at the roster depth of teams and try to find the place that gives them the best shot at the majors. Buxton would be a major reason for such players to sign elsewhere last winter.) The Twins also lost two marginal center fielders, Alex Presley and Darin Mastroianni, on waivers as a direct result of a misplaced fascination with Jason Bartlett.

The result is that at both Triple A and Double A, the Twins' highest minor league affiliates are playing career infielders in center.

So the Twins are stuck with Hicks and his not-a-switch-hitter experiment for the foreseeable future -- unless they decide to swing a trade. (There are indications, by the way, that the Phillies are getting frustrated with Ben Revere.)

In the abstract, trading for a center field alternative, and giving Hicks a chance to cope with this drastic change in the minors, is the thing to do. But, of course, when you get to specifics, the question is: What are you getting, and what are you giving up?

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