Saturday, June 11, 2011

Aaron Hicks on the Rise

From the moment that Aaron Hicks was drafted by the Twins in the first round, 14th overall in the 2008 draft out of high school in Long Beach, California much was expected out of him. Hicks had a full ride to USC so it took 1.7 million to sign him. Hicks was another in the long line of toolsy outfielders that the Twins love to draft. However, what made him different was the fact that some teams saw him as an outfielder and others saw him as a pitcher. What made him so different than most high school outfielders is he also pitched and could throw 95 miles per hour. When someone can throw that hard normally it is a no brainer that they should pitch. Hicks made it clear to teams though that he wanted to play outfield and that is where the Twins saw him as a prospect. That is why the Twins had no problem using their pick on him knowing that they would be able to sign him due to the fact that he wanted to play outfield. Aaron Hicks signed on August 3rd and was assigned to the GCL league to finish off his season and here are the stats he put up.

45 games .318 avg 4hr 27 rbi 10 doubles 4 triples 28 walks32 strikeouts 12SB .409/.491/.900

That was enough for talent scouts to salivate over Hicks and for most prospect guru's to put Hicks at the top of most Twins prospect lists. He really had it all he could hit for average by his .318 batting average. He could hit for power as his eighteen extra base hits would attest to. He could steal bases as his twelve stolen bases would show. He had great range in center field; he had a cannon for an arm. The tool that probably was the most impressive though was his eye at the plate as he had just about as many walks as strikeouts. That is key in a prospect as it keeps you out of slumps if you are able to take walks on a consistent basis and he showed that in the GCL.
In 2009 he skipped Elizabethton totally and went up to Beloit. It is not hard to figure out that he struggled a little bit as a 19 year old in Beloit. He put up decent numbers, but not what many expected out of him and that is when the doubt started to creep into prospect people’s minds how good can this guy really be.

2009: 67 games .251 avg 4 homeruns 29 rbi's 15 doubles 3 triples 40 walks 55 strikeouts 10 stolen bases .353/.382/.735OPS

Aaron Hicks numbers all across the board were a little bit down from the year previous and that should not have come as any big surprise since he skipped a year of development and getting up to Beloit at the age of 19. However, what impressed me so much was his obp was over a hundred points higher than his batting average then an incredible 40 walks in only 251 at bats. Being that he was young for his level and that he did not wow scouts in Beloit caused him to repeat Beloit again in 2010.
He improved immensely after starting out the season 1-31 and then was much better the rest of the year. In 2010 Hicks put up decent numbers for the Snappers;

2010: 115 games .279 avg 8hr 49 rbi's 27 doubles and 6 triples 88 walks 112 strikeouts 21 stolen bases .401/.428/.829OPS

I know that people expected more out of Hicks in 2010, but the key thing is he showed improvement in just about every stat except strikeouts which was disappointing. However, I was really surprised that some dropped him in Twins prospect lists even though he improved from year to year. Aaron Hicks strengths and weaknesses are many so I asked prospect guru Seth Stohs what he felt were Hicks strengths and weaknesses and he had this to say, "His strengths are pure athleticism, patience at the plate, and his speed, while his weaknesses are He's very raw, immense talent, but will take a while to put it all together." I agree with him on those, but what I like most about his game is that he is improving year to year. It may not show up on the boxscore from day to day, but when you look at his numbers at the end of the year the numbers are better than he had the year before. Look at this year in April he hit just .211, then in May he hit .286, and so far in June he is hitting a robust .348. If you go from May 1 the last six weeks Hicks has hit .299 which just shows how he is very good at making adjustments and improving parts of his game. The bottom line is Aaron Hicks is a slow starter so you just got to throw out his April numbers every year and go by what he does from May on.

Another question that I asked Seth was his struggles hitting left handed and if he thought that Hicks needs to stop switch-hitting. So far this year he is hitting .325 with a .857 OPS hitting right handed, while hitting .217 with a .650 OPS hitting left handed. This is Seth's perspective, "I don't think switch hitting is holding him back at this point. To maximize the type of player that he can be, it would be great if he would be able to switch-hit. Because he is so raw, and the organization can and will be patient with him, we need to be patient with his overall development. He is very good defensively, running things down and obviously throwing. But he has other things to work on, like instincts, base running, etc. It’s all part of the plan and the process. They need to play it out for at least the remainder of the season, if not another year." I would agree with Seth on this as his numbers hitting left handed has improved even since I started researching this piece. He will be much more valuable if he is able to switch-hit so I think we need to just give it some time.

The next thing I discussed with Seth is what does he need to do to keep advancing and his response was, "The main thing Hicks has to do to advance is just be more consistent, obviously that means the offense, but also the defense and the base running. That is not unusual and the only way to improve is through playing." I agree that Hicks has to become more consistent as thus far in his career he is a very streaky hitter as when he is hot he is really hot and when he is cold he is freezing.

The next thing I asked Seth was when can we expect to see Aaron Hicks in a Twins uniform, "Best case would be for Hicks to spend the entire 2011 season in Fort Myers and advance to New Britain next season. If he succeeds there you could see him early in 2013." I really agree with Seth on that assessment as he is only 21 years old which is quite young for the Florida State League. Even if you have him spend a year in FM, a year in New Britain, and a year in Rochester he would make his debut with the Twins at the young age of 24 which is still young for the big leagues.
The last thing I asked Seth was what position would he be best served playing and he said, "Although I think he can certainly play centerfield, right field may be his best position. He has got great speed, but he is not Ben Revere. His arm defiantly profiles to right field." I totally agree and being that he can play center field he will give Gardy the flexibility to play any of the three outfield positions if need be. I really view Hicks as a young version of Carlos Beltran who I totally feel will be special. His eye at the plate really excites me and I really believe his power at the plate will come to someday be a 20-25 homerun a year guy. I see him being the perfect number two hitter in the Twins lineup hitting in front of Joe Mauer for years to come. For those that have given up on him or felt that he has not lived up to what you thought he was going to be well I think you’re really wrong. I think in a year or two Aaron Hicks is going to be a top five prospect in all of baseball. I think he has as much upside as anyone out there and the key for him is just getting out there and playing every day and getting better. He has gotten better every season and he just needs to keep doing that and if he does that than the sky is the limit for my number one choice for Twins prospects. Maybe I am in the minority now who still believe he is going to be special, but I truly that if Harmon Killebrew was the past, Joe Mauer is the present, and then Aaron Hicks will be the future as in franchise players