Left to find a new starting center field following a pair of winter trades that shipped both Denard Span and Ben Revere to the NL East, the Minnesota Twins could turn to a rookie to fill the role when the season begins in a few weeks. Aaron Hicks has been impressive in camp this Spring, both in the field and at the plate, and appears to have positioned himself as the favorite to win the job.
The 23 year old Hicks was originally a 1st Round pick (#14 overall) by the Twins in the 2008 Draft and he’s done nothing but positive things since, four times appearing among Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects. This past season at Double-A New Britain (the highest level he’s played at to date) he batted .286/.384/.460 in 563 PA, adding 11 3B, 13 HR, and 32 SB. He’s also shown great discipline/patience at the plate, walking 79 times (for the third season in a row). Over five seasons in the minor leagues he’s hitting a combined .271/.379/.421.
So far in Spring Training he’s hitting a robust .371/.378/.800 with 7 extra base hits in just 37 PA. He’s hit four home runs this Spring, including three in one game late last week against the Philadelphia Phillies (including leading the game off with a moonshot against Cliff Lee).
Hicks’ competition this Spring hasn’t done much to keep him from the job. Joe Benson has hit a meager .114/.262/.257 in 42 PA coming off a terrible 2012 season (.202/.288/.336 in 312 PA across multiple levels). Darin Mastroianni has hit well this Spring (.412/.450/.588) but has struggled to stay on the field (just 20 PA) thanks to a strained hamstring.
With Opening Day in under three weeks, the Twins will soon need to make a decision regarding the immediate future of the trio and their opening in center field. Hicks appears to be the favorite to win the job, with Mastroianni slated to come off the bench as his backup. At this point, the only real justification for not handing the job to Hicks is the fact that having him start the season in the minor leagues could buy the Twins another year before he reaches free agency.