It could. Aaron Hicks has failed to impress in the major leagues, with a .192/.282/.311 slash line in 462 plate appearances, so it might be worth a shot. Hey, the results have been even worse in the 326 times he’s stood in the batter’s box against a right-handed pitcher as a left-handed hitter: .178/.259/.286. The split has been more pronounced in 2014: .149/.284/.209 in 82 plate appearances. His lifetime MLB ISO as a right-handed hitter is 64 points better than its counterpart.
Hicks made the decision on his own and then informed his agent and the organization of it. Standard practice is to discuss such a substantial change with one’s club before one makes it. The Minnesota Twins don’t seem to mind and have been supportive of his choice, both reactions that are more than understandable, at least to me, given my limited knowledge of the dynamic, however.
Hicks doesn’t appear to have made a knee-jerk reaction to his frustrations in The Show, despite how it may come across to fans and fantasy owners, most of whom receive this type of news in a vacuum of a blurb. This is a change that he’d previously pondered. It’s a topic the Twinkies had considered broaching when he was a minor leaguer. It’s something for which interim GM Rob Antony provided more insight in conversations with the press later.
Hicks was a .261/.365/.409 hitter in 1,169 plate appearances in his last three seasons on the farm, according to data at Minor League Central. That part of his pro career is comprised of his full-season stays at Class A Advanced Fort Myers in 2011 and Double-A New Britain in 2012 as well as his 21-game stretch at Class AAA Rochester last season, after Minnesota had demoted him. In that time, he was a .276/.359/.454 performer, with a .178 ISO, in 358 plate appearances as a right-handed batter and a .254/.368./.387 player, with a .133 ISO, in 811 plate appearances from the left side. His contact rate was several points better, as were other indicators of his plate discipline, as a RHB than it was as a LHB, as expected.
As far as Hicks alone is concerned, it’s pointless to ask why he didn’t weigh the decision sooner. He doesn’t own a DeLorean DMC-12 that, after it reaches 88 mph and with the power of 1.21 gigawatts (pronounced jigawatts) of electricity stored in the flux capacitor, travels through time. Just as disappointing: No one else will let him borrow one, methinks.
So, at the age of 24, Hicks is starting over against pitchers who throw with their right arms and happen to make up a significantly greater portion of that population. That can’t be an easy task. And if Hicks is such a bad left-handed hitter, then it was probably a disservice to him to allow him to skip the Triple-A level. It’s not about blame, just the size of the challenge at hand. He’ll have to become accustomed to an entirely new set of pitchers, in essence, because righties won’t pitch to him the way they did when he batted left-handed, and he can’t take much insight from his experience against southpaws. As multiple writers who cover the Twins have suggested, how to handle the slide piece away will probably be a particularly difficult aspect of his adjustment.
The organization’s serious lack of depth in center field has prevented it from optioning Hicks to Rochester, where he’d be better served to work on his adaptation, too. The parent club’s use of Daniel Santana, who has played all of 23 games there in the minors, most of them in 2011 or earlier, while Sam Fuld (concussion) is disabled, is evidence. Guess they didn’t realize how much they’d miss Alex Presley and Darin Mastroianni. Hicks has played sparingly, in the meantime, since his May 26 announcement. Granted, he was injured for a few days in that time, but the either way, the circumstances have just delayed his transition.
He can be an MLB-caliber player if he’s successful in his bid to hit right-handed full-time. Hicks has 15-home run power and the speed to swipe 25 bases. He’s demonstrated his knowledge of the strike zone, with a walk rate well above 10% throughout the minors. He’s used that tool extensively this year, unlike in 2013, when he made the jump from Class AA to the majors. That’s impressive advancement. It’s clear from his mouth that he’s more comfortable as a right-handed batter and from the statistics that he’s naturally one.
It’s not clear how long he’ll take to rediscover that feeling against northpaws, though, and, then, how soon Hicks’ performance will reflect it. He hasn’t even hit well as a major league RHB versus a LHP, the type of hurler against whom he’s presumed to have a greater advantage, with a career .222/.333/.394 in 117 plate appearances. He has displayed noticeable improvement this year, slashing .250/.412/.325 in 51 plate appearances, again a heartening sign, but the sizes of the samples are pretty small.
Hicks has some work to do as a hitter, period. The combined outcome of batters, including pitchers, who hit right-handed against righties in 2013 is .249/.307/.384. Through June 4 of this season, the slash line for those parameters .247/.305/.387. OK, we have an idea of what a league-average RHB does against a RHP. Hicks has struggled to swing the bat that well against lefties, though. He’s probably going to need some time.
The baseball gods may have bought him some. How much Byron Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick in 2012, has affected decisions related to and made by Hicks is practically irrelevant to what happens from this point forward, other than the repercussions related to the former switch hitter’s play. Baseball’s top prospect, arguably, sprained his wrist in spring training, has played in only five contests in 2014 and remains sidelined. It’s unclear when he’ll rejoin the Fort Myers Miracle’s lineup.
As ESPN 1500’s Derek Witmore speculated, this development hurts the five-tool player’s chance to open the 2015 season with Minnesota, although Antony disagreed. The longer Buxton sits, however, the easier it’d be to allow future cost-control concerns to be a factor in his debut. The Buxton situation should benefit Hicks, at least for now.
“I would be extremely surprised if he’s not a solid, everyday major-league outfielder,” Antony has stated, per multiple sources. “He’s got athletic ability and he’s shown all the tools. Now it’s a matter of when is he going to put it all together.”
I believe that Hicks possesses the ability to be a regular, too. But this is a major adversity. He has a few months, maybe a calendar year, to learn how to overcome it. I can’t help but think that he won’t be ready to reap the rewards of his labor until he’s somewhere else. I’d probably still be an interested fantasy owner then, but it’s hard to say how I confident I am that he’ll get there, let alone when.
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