The Twins’ third-year outfielder, called up last month from triple-A, has been stationed in center field, a plot of land formerly patrolled by current right fielder Torii Hunter, who he watched play while he was growing up in California.
“It’s awesome, man,” admits the 25-year-old of sharing the field with the multi-time All-Star veteran outfielder. “It’s everything I wanted to be able to play with a guy I looked up to as a kid. It’s actually pretty cool.”
The 39-year-old Hunter as mentor has helped Hicks in numerous ways: “You need guys like that you can go up and talk to,” Hicks says. “He’s an easy person to talk to.”
“You just try to give him some of the things you’ve learned,” notes Hunter. “I played center field for so long, and played the game long, period.
“I try to give some wisdom because I have had a lot of failures,” says the veteran “sage” who made his MLB debut in 1997 as a pinch runner. He’s back this season in Minnesota after stints with Los Angeles and Detroit. “I’ve had a lot of failures, and when you fail, you got to make some adjustments — that becomes wisdom.”
If there was a designated fielder position in the majors, however, Hicks never would’ve been on this down-and-up career path the last two seasons. “Everybody knows he can play defense,” says Minnesota GM Terry Ryan. “He’s got range and he’s athletic. He can throw and he’s fearless” in the field.
Ryan told the MSR that he has noticed Hicks seemingly coming around at the plate, pointing to his three multi-hit games since his return. “He’s been better, more confident,” admits the general manager. “It’s a pretty good sign that he’s taken better at-bats.”
“He had two years where he struggled [and] got sent down to triple-A,” adds Hunter. “I feel for him. Now he’s come with a little more confidence on the third time around. I think he learned some things. He looks totally different.
“He’s made some adjustments, but he has a long way to go. He’s not going to come up here and hit 50 home runs,” surmises the veteran. “Just give him a little time — 1,500 at-bats are usually how long it takes before you know what the guy really is all about. He’s a five-tool player, a guy who can run, hit, throw, hit for average and power — he can do all those things.
“I know I can play here,” states Hicks after a recent game. “It’s all about going out there and having the right approach and having a game plan. If you go into a game with no game plan, your chance of success is slim. Now I have a game plan going into every game and stick with it.”
Hicks’ major league plate struggles notwithstanding, “I got to make adjustments… If I keep making adjustments, I think I will have a pretty good chance of being successful.
“I want to be here for the long haul. I know I can play here. It’s now going out there and doing it.”
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