April 1, 2013
The situation: The Twins wanted the 23-year-old Aaron Hicks to win a starting job in the major leagues this season. In the offseason, they traded away Denard Span and Ben Revere, re-tooling their farm system but also leaving a void in center field. Hicks, fresh off a bounce-back season at Double-A New Britain, came into spring training with the same attitude the Twins did. He batted .370/.407/.644 while clubbing 4 home runs in the spring, all but cementing his place at the major-league level. While the general consensus was that Hicks could use some more play in the minors, his great spring as well as an empty spot gave the Twins enough reason to stick him in center field on Opening Day.
Background: Hicks took the scenic route to reach his final destination in Minnesota, spending time in the Gulf Coast League, two seasons in the Midwest League, a season in the Florida State League, and finally a season in the Eastern League. Drafted in the first round out of high school in the 2008 draft, he profiled as a toolsy outfielder with a rocket arm who could move to the mound eventually if he did not hit enough in the early going. He signed quickly and got an early test in the Gulf Coast League and hit well, showing good patience at the plate for an 18-year-old. After his inaugural season, Hicks took the logical next step to Single-A Beloit where he struggled in what was his first full season of professional baseball. After repeating the level and producing better results, Hicks struggled again in High-A Fort Meyers, leaving some doubters ready to claim he was a lost cause. The Twins did not believe so, of course, and pushed him to Double-A where he put those tools to use more often, finally showing game power. Going into the 2013 season, Hicks was ranked third in the Twins farm system and 46th in the Top 101 prospects list, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Scouting Report: Hicks is an athlete. Out of high school he was scouted on the mound as well as as a center fielder, with a fastball touching the mid-90s. That arm plays in center field as well, throwing BBs around the diamond. It’s a real weapon that can play in right field if need be, just in case another higher-rated prospect whose name rhymes with Cruxton ever pushes him off the position. If he stays in center, he has the range and speed to stick for a long time. Hicks, fortunately for the Twins, is not just a defensive-minded player; he owns a good amount of power which should play as above average in the show. Pair that future power with the good on-base ability he’s shown already in the minor leagues and that could make a very valuable player for the foreseeable future. The on-base ability does come with some drawbacks; his approach at the plate has been described as passive at times and he does have some swing-and-miss in his bat, causing his hit tool to play around average and his strikeouts to rise in the minors. His body is mature now at age 23 but I expect him to gain a little more weight in the future. He is strong and built to last.
Immediate Big-League Future: The immediate is sort of a toss-up for Hicks, as he has no other real competition for the center field job with his skill set and upside at present. He could flourish early on, continuing his torrid spring training pace in which it seems he took a more free-swinging approach. With that swing comes swing-and-miss, however, and he could also struggle with major-league velocity and command. Regardless of where the bat lands on that range, his secondary defensive tools should keep him in center field for the majority of the season. Hicks has taken a good amount of time to get to the big leagues and now is not the time to be impatient with him if you haven’t already. Time will tell. –Chris Rodriguez
Fantasy Outlook: Hicks has fantasy upside as a true potential five-category threat. He does have a few things going against him in 2013 as far as his fantasy value is concerned—the biggest of which is his batting average risk. PECOTA projects him to hit .227 this season, which is a far cry from the .370 batting average he maintained during spring training. To further compound that problem, Hicks has a history of starting slow at new levels in his development, which will truly be put to the test as he makes a two-level jump to the majors. And a slow start could put him back in the minors before Memorial Day.
However, with that risk comes a real chance that he will succeed and put up very good fantasy numbers for where he was drafted in leagues this March. The one thing we know he should be able to provide is stolen bases, as he is capable of stealing 30 bases if he sticks for the whole season. And if he can get on base enough to stay in the leadoff spot, Hicks could score around 80 runs as well. Just keep your expectations in check for the rest of the categories he shouldn’t contribute much to. Even if the in-game power does start to come, Target Field (very tough on LH power) will bury some of his progress.
Hicks is a must-own in dynasty formats, and I’d prefer him to Jackie Bradley both in 2013 and beyond. In redraft leagues, Hicks is someone to monitor in mixed, but he needs to be owned in AL-only. If he’s a free agent in your AL-only league, I’d bid around $12-15 of FAAB on him—with that number rising slightly if it’s a league which counts OBP. –Bret Sayre
Chris Rodriguez is an author of Baseball Prospectus.