Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mr. Brightside: Aaron Hicks

When the young Aaron Hicks fell to the Minnesota Twins with the 14th overall pick in the 2008 MLB draft, analysts praised the choice. Regarded as a high-upside outfielder with all the tools, he was projected go in the mid-teens in the deep 2008 draft. Immediately he was ranked as the 39th best prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America. Over the next two seasons, his status as a top prospect was consistent, even though he didn't make it out of Low-A. After his third year of mediocre production in A-ball (this time in Hi-A), his stock stalled out. Coming into 2012, Hicks was not honored as a top 100 prospect for the first time in his career and dropped to #4 in most Twins' organizational lists.
(Make the jump)

As a 22 year old, Hicks was promoted to AA for the 2012 season. Offensively, he's posted a .257 batting average over parts of 5 seasons and hit just 28 home runs. Seeing as these have been primarily in the low minors, these stats aren't awe-inspiring. Granted, there are positives. For one, his defense has gotten positive marks and projects as a 60-70 defender in any outfield position. Another is his impressive walk rates at about 15%. Lastly, scouts say he still has the "tools" to be a star. However, prospect gurus are starting to get impatient and wonder if the approach is TOO passive and wonder if he'll ever hit.

With so much negativity surrounding Hicks' production, it's interesting to really explore where this is coming from. The most obvious is a lack of contact, leading to mediocre batting averages. To that , I have no excuses for Hicks. Barring injury, this year he'll strike out 100+ times for the 3rd straight season. Although contact is a clear deficiency, other former top prospects like Chris B. Young and Cameron Maybin have made do with similar skill sets. Another issue is his power, which didn't develop over his first four years. However, this year he will likely reach double-digits in home runs and about 35 extra base hits in total. Not incredible, but it's a start and scouts or prospect-guys will always say power is the last tool to develop. I'll be patient on the power, but don't expect that to be a strength to his game.

In my opinion, the strength to his game will be the full package. The sum, both offense and defense, is greater than the parts. Offensively, although his batting averages and power haven't stood out, he actually produced well. In pitchers' leagues, he has never posted a wOBA below .333 or wRC+ below 103. Capped off by .353 wOBA in AA as one of the younger players this year, his overall offensive production has been actually very good.

Granted, I still wonder if the bat will ever be as special as his first-round choice suggested or whether he'll develop power. But at this point, I see no reason he shouldn't be a productive hitter playing premium defense in the mold of Denard Span and Ben Revere.

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