A gifted athlete, Hicks still honing abilities
Minnesota Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks is a special athlete.
As a standout pitcher and very capable outfielder at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, Calif., Hicks drew the attention of scouts who were conflicted regarding his future role in baseball.
Some scouts saw Hicks as a potential starting pitcher with an excellent mid-90s fastball and a very effective curve. There were times his velocity could touch the upper 90s. Others saw him as a speedy, strong-armed outfielder with power potential and an ability to hit for average as he progressed.
In his senior year, Hicks hit .473 with 37 stolen bases. He also showed promise on the mound, going 8-2 with a 1.16 ERA. Hicks struck out 112 batters in 72 1/3 innings.
But after high school, baseball was only one option among many for Hicks. He is also a tremendous golfer. So good, in fact, his father wanted him to become a professional golfer instead of turning to baseball for his future.
Joe Hicks played Minor League baseball in the Padres system. An eye injury ended his career.
Aaron Hicks was also considering attending the University of Southern California to become a student-athlete.
Selecting him in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft with one of their three first-round picks, the Twins viewed Hicks as a multitooled center fielder. After considering all his options, Hicks chose to pursue a career as a professional baseball player.
Now, in his sixth professional season, Hicks is the starting center fielder for the Twins. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but he made it.
Hicks is the type of athlete who makes playing games look easy. He has the smooth, well-coordinated approach that results in him making every move seem effortless.
At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, the switch-hitting Hicks has what many would say is the perfect athletic physique. He is fit and strong, with very evenly and well-proportioned muscle distribution and definition.
Working in the offseason with Hall of Famer Rod Carew has helped Hicks with the mental as well as the physical aspects of the game. He has learned the constant discipline and dedication required for sustained success.
In his first year in the game, Hicks was assigned to the Twins' Gulf Coast League Rookie level club. He hit .318 in 204 plate appearances. Hicks showed good patience at the plate and struck out only 32 times.
The Twins chose to have Hicks spend his second and third seasons with Class A Beloit. He was gaining some momentum in his game, learning the importance of recognizing pitches and staying focused at the plate.
In 2011, Hicks was promoted to Class A Advanced Fort Myers, where he began to struggle. In his 528 plate appearances, he hit only .242 and struck out 110 times. It appeared as though Hicks had hit a standstill in his development.
After that season, Hicks was assigned to the Arizona Fall League, where I first saw him play. He needed to relax a bit and rediscover his confidence.
Hicks had a very good fall season. Playing 30 games for Mesa, he hit .294 with 21 RBIs. Of Hicks' 30 hits, 16 went for extra bases. He had eight doubles, five triples and three home runs. Hicks played 28 games in center field and two as a right fielder. I got to see his extremely strong throwing arm, as well as his fine speed, on a regular basis.
Last season, things seemed to go as well for Hicks as they did in the Arizona Fall League. He was assigned to Double-A New Britain in the Eastern League, where hit .286 and had an on-base percentage of .384. That's a statistic that will be very important in allowing Hicks to use his speed as an offensive weapon.
Projecting Hicks' future is more difficult than with some young prospects. For example, is he best suited in the first two positions in the batting order -- where he can get on base, steal second and score on a base hit? Or will his power emerge and allow him to drive in runs from the middle-third of the order? I tend to think Hicks is best suited at the top.
Hicks has a short, measured stroke that allows him to meet the ball with average bat speed. He can drive the ball to the gaps, but he appears to be more successful staying within his capabilities and not trying to power the ball out of the park. I think Hicks is just beginning to understand and refine his swing.
With his speed, Hicks can get some traction from bunting if he perfects that ability. I know he has spent some time working on that aspect of his game.
Currently, I think Hicks' defense may be ahead of his offense. He has outstanding range in center, with an ability to read the ball off the bat extremely well. Once again, Hicks' speed allows him to close quickly on fly balls.
If I have any concern about Hicks' defense, it may be the strength of his arm. It's so strong that his throws may sail on him, causing him to overthrow his target.
At this point of his career, the 23-year-old is still learning to refine his abilities. Hicks is learning continued plate discipline and patience at the plate. He is realizing that his natural ability does not require him to press or put undue pressure upon himself. Hicks is learning that repetition and refinement are as essential as the constant repetition of batting practice in honing his skills.
Hicks is a talented and natural athlete waiting to realize his potential and refine his outstanding tools as a big league outfielder. He has remaining upside in his ability to consistently hit Major League pitching and help his club score runs.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoffon Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.