Friday, June 28, 2013

When Hicks' rehab is over, what?

Hitting coach Tom Brunansky talks to Clete Thomas
during Wednesday's game in Miami.
Aaron Hicks played seven innings of center field Thursday night for Rochester, part of the progression as he tests his hamstring. He started with a game as designated hitter, then played five innings in the outfield, seven innings ... today he presumably plays nine innings in the field and then, assuming no issues emerge, he's ready to return.

And then what?

Clete Thomas went 1-for-4 Thursday with a run scored and is hitting .262/.333/.369 as the fill-in center fielder. This isn't great production, but it is better than the .179/.249/.326 Hicks had put up for the season before his injury.

Thomas has been a tolerable platoon leadoff hitter, and I doubt that Ron Gardenhire is eager to return Hicks to that lineup slot, especially as a left-handed hitter (the switch-hitting Hicks is a stronger hitter right-handed than left). And I doubt that Thomas is readily demoted; if he's out of options, and he probably is, he'll have to clear waivers to be sent to Rochester. He may well go unclaimed, but it's still a risk.

Of course, I've said all year that 2013 is (should be) a secondary concern. The Twins' primary concern with each decision should be: How does this make us better down the road? What will nudge us closer to contention in 2014 and 2015 and beyond?

Thomas is not going to play a key role on a Twins contender down the road. Hicks might. That next contending Twins team will have Byron Buxton in center, Oswaldo Arcia in one outfield corner and maybe Hicks in the other. Maybe Hicks, maybe somebody else; Hicks will certainly have to hit to be a corner outfield.

So the real question is: What is better for Hicks' development?

I think that, if the Twins could rewind back to spring training, they would find an excuse to send Hicks to Triple A. Such a move would have brought howls after Hicks' brilliant performance in the Grapefruit League, and considering the ineptitude displayed by Joe Benson and the injury sustained by Darin Mastroianni, the Twins didn't have a great set of alternatives in March.

Hicks has improved as the season continued, but even the improved Hicks of May and June was below major league standards as a hitter.

If the Twins send Hicks to Triple A, I won't complain. He might benefit from a month or more in Rochester, and (as a tiebreaker)Thomas fills a role on the 2013 Twins a bit better than Hicks has.

But I don't really expect the Twins to take that route. They threw Hicks into the deep end of the pool at the start of the season, and I think they'll have him keep splashing.

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