Friday, May 16, 2014

The shaming of Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks celebrates his
10th-inning walkoff single Thursday.
Thursday was a pretty good time for the embattled Aaron Hicks to come up with a game-winning base hit. The extra-innings heroics doubtless will make everybody involved feel better, but it doesn't much change the situation

Ron Gardenhire and Rob Antony on Wednesday unleashed a rare public barrage of criticism at Hicks. The gist of it: Hicks doesn't properly prepare mentally for games -- doesn't study video, doesn't even know sometimes who's pitching for the opposition.

I'm in no position to assess the accuracy of the complaint of ill-preparation. I think it likely that different players should prepare differently, and that there are hitters for whom rigorous film study will simply lead to paralysis by analysis. Considering that Hicks' default plate approach might be already overly-selective, I don't know how much a greater emphasis on "homework" is going to help him.

What is inarguable is that what Hicks has been doing isn't working for him. The Twins taking the issue public suggests that they've been unable privately to change the behavior.

In the immediate wake of Thursday's game, my Twitter feed flooded with posts essentially suggesting that Hicks had proven the in-house criticism wrong. Fact: Hicks is hitting .170. It's not like they're trying to fix something that ain't broken.

Underlying the frustration with the inability of the former first-round pick to establish himself: The Twins have no true center field alternatives available.

Fourth outfielder Sam Fuld is on the concussion list and doesn't appear to be nearly ready to return. Even if he were, he's 32 and has a track record of being better afield than at the plate. Usable bench piece, not fit for regular play.

The regular in center field in Triple A Rochester is Eric Farris, a 28-year-old who has spent most of his career at second base. Farris is hitting for a nice average for the Red Wings, but those of us grousing about the chronic use of infielders in the outfield this season would find no relief in Farris.

As for Double A New Britain, the Twins picked up Kenny Wilson from Toronto to get a legit center fielder at that level. Wilson hit .195 in 11 games, and the Twins waived him and Toronto reclaimed him. The guy with the most center field time in New Britain: Corey Wimberley, another career non-prospect infielder.

The Twins got into this jam through a combination of injury, suspension and questionable roster decisions. If things had gone well, Byron Buxton would be in New Britain making everybody eager to jump him to the bigs; instead, he is again nursing his injured wrist. Eddie Rosario, a center fielder before the Twins started trying to convert him to second base two seasons ago, ought to be in New Britain (if not Rochester); instead, he's at extended spring training with about two more weeks of drug suspension to serve.

And, as has been griped about here repeatedly, the Twins jettisoned Alex Presley and Darin Mastroianni this spring to make room for the Jason Bartlett Experiment Embarrassment. Neither Presley nor Mastroianni would be a quality regular in center, but they wouldn't be obviously out of place defensively.

And therein is the gist of the Hicks dilemma. All the options available to replace him would be out of place defensively, and this pitching staff has enough trouble with the outfield defense with Hicks in center.

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