As the regular season draws closer, rosters are beginning to form and young players like Aaron Hicks are receiving the news that they will be beginning the season in the minors. Hicks was cut on Saturday after failing to earn a spot as the Twins center fielder.
After batting .206 with a .300 on-base percentage across 13 Spring Training games, the former first-rounder was demoted. Twins’ skipper Paul Molitor even pulled Hicks from a road game at Dunedin early in the spring after he lost track of how many outs there were as a baserunner, saying he needs to eliminate “mental mistakes”.
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It’s a disappointing result for both Minnesota and Hicks as the expectation was that he would finally be able to seal a starting position after faltering the last two years. As a former 14th overall pick in 2008, Hicks was seen as a five-tool player who was projected as a future cornerstone of the franchise and the heir to centerfield in the post-Torii Hunter era.
He displayed his potential immediately out of the gate, batting .318 with a .409 on-base percentage with the Gulf Coast League Twins and despite a roller coaster ride over the next few seasons, he was promoted from Double-A to the majors in 2012. Hicks had performed well that season for the Rock Cats, getting on base at a high rate as evident by his 79 walks. He also revealed above average speed, stealing 32 bases while playing covering lots of ground in the outfield.
With an excellent season in Double-A and a late season promotion to the majors, it looked like everything was clicking. Instead however, Hicks started 2013 with a thud. He batted .192 in 81 games with a strikeout to walk ratio of nearly four to one. His grace in the outfield apparently disappeared and he looked overmatched in every aspect of the game. As a result, he was sent to Triple-A for the rest of the season.
Last season, there was hope of some turnaround, but the results were more of the same. He batted .215 in 69 games before being demoted once again. Despite the demotion, Hicks took it in stride, eventually getting promoted to Triple-A Rochester where he batted .278.
That success, however, didn’t carry over into the offseason. Choosing to play winter ball, Hicks didn’t produce as well as Minnesota could have hoped and was eventually released from his Venezuelan Winter League team after going 2 for 21 at the plate.
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With two seasons of claiming the Opening Day center field job and failing to sustain any success, this third failure could be hard to swallow. Top prospect Byron Buxton is on the verge of the majors, and Hicks’ potential to start in center is decreasing dramatically by the day. Instead, his best chance of success will be succeeding in left field with Hunter close to retirement and Oswaldo Arcia not currently displaying the patience at the plate to last there long-term.
Still only 25 years old, Hicks could still have a bright future. He has the athleticism, speed, strong arm, and patience at the plate that teams look for in a young player. His walk rate has always hovered over 14 percent and still has a good eye for the strike zone.
It’s clear that that Hicks has a lot of growing to do and this year may be a make or break year for him if he fails to earn a promotion before season’s end. Only time will tell if Hicks can work his way back and maintain that production, but with his talent, it’s always a possibility.