The Crash Davis lead character in Bull Durham was a minor league baseball lifer who spent some time in “The Show,” the major leagues, a sage for his fellow teammates. Minnesota Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks is no Crash, but during his second consecutive minor league stint in as many seasons, he too became a sage.
“For the first time, I was one of the older guys on the team. It was different. They were picking my brain and trying to figure out ways on becoming a better player. It made me a better player, because if you can explain it in a way that got people understanding it, it means that you understand what’s going on,” recalls the 24-year-old player.
A teammate once sought a quick tip on handling off-speed pitches, says Hicks. “He [the pitcher] will throw you a fastball to try to freeze you up. He goes up looking for a fastball, and gets a double down the
line. He gets to second base and says, ‘Yeah.’ I’m helping these young guys out on things to look for between each at-bat. That was fun to help those guys down there.”
It’s been a couple of elevator-like campaigns for the young outfielder from California. If it wasn’t for real life, it would seem scripted: Hicks starts the season with the parent club, struggles at the plate, get demoted, and returns in September when the rosters are expanded.
“He has all the tools and the ability in the world,” notes Minnesota Manager Ron Gardenhire on Hicks. “He’s a gifted outfielder — he’s a centerfielder by trade. He can cover a lot of ground and has a cannon [for a throwing arm]. His ability is above the roof in reading the ball.”
However, converted outfielder Danny Santana has patrolled center field for the Twins. “Our preference is for Aaron Hicks be in centerfield. He’s our best centerfielder.” But the Twins can’t have a below-.200-hitting centerfielder like Hicks as opposed to Santana’s over .300 hitting, who ideally should be playing at short, his natural position.
The manager, despite his two demotions, hasn’t given up on Hicks. If only his bat showed the same consistency as his glove and his arm: His nine outfield assists in 2013 tied for fifth best in team history.
“I think he has a better plan on what he is about, and what kind of player he needs to be to be successful up here,” says Gardenhire, who regards Hicks’ two up-and-down seasons in Minnesota as both a learning experience and hopefully a wake-up call — “a luxury in seeing how you can go through some struggles, and now he has some understanding of what he’s needing to do to try to straighten it out.
“He’s working on all parts of his game. He goes out and takes fly balls [during batting practice],” continues Gardenhire. When he went down to New Britain (AA) and Rochester (AAA), Hicks went back to switch-hitting and shortened his swing. “He is not trying to hit a home run every time,” adds the manager.
“I took my weakness and turned it into a strength,” says Hicks. “I continue to work on my weaknesses.”
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