Two hits in thirty-two plate appearances.
That's Aaron Hicks production in his first week as a major leaguer. That's also good for a .067/.125/.067 batting line.
Consequently, a lot of questions have been asked around the Twin Cities if Hicks should still be in the majors, let alone the starting lineup. Many celebrated when the lineup for yesterday's game had Darin Mastroianni penciled in Hicks' place.
But is Hicks really this bad? Does he just need some AAA seasoning?
Well, to answer this, we have to start with what our expectations should be for Hicks. We should know that he's absolutely not the monster who hit .370/.407/.644 in spring training. But he's also not the version that we've seen in April. As usual, the truth is somewhere in between.
The place I like to start with Hicks is his strikeout rates. Over his minor league career, he struck out in about 20% of his plate appearances. That's high for the minors, but for context, that would have put him somewhere between Justin Smoak and Bryce Harper in the major league ranks. So that provides a spectrum of outcomes dependent on many other factors.
However, in going up to the majors, we could expect his rate should increase. It's currently just above 40%, which is 6% higher than the league high strikeout rate from Adam Dunn and nearly 10% higher than Pedro Alvarez who is second on the list. Clearly, if he continues at this rate, he's never going to materialize into the potential all-star centerfielder he's been lauded as.
Realistically, he's probably going to normalize closer to 25-30% range than where he's at now. He's had to face tough pitchers in Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and others that he's never seen anything remotely close to in the minors. He's also had the added burden of leading off. Although nothing has been proven about lineup position and production, it's hard to believe he's not adding pressure to himself given the evident expectation of batting in front of Joe Mauer.
The next number I'd like to point out is that he's two for seventeen on balls in play. Given a normal batting average on balls in play of .300, we'd expect him to have 5 hits which would net him a .166 batting average. Far from good, but it would be easier to excuse as a 'bad week'.
And I think he easily could have those five hits or even more. I haven't seen all of his plate appearances this season, but qualitatively, when he does it the ball it seems to be hard hit line drives that find their way into gloves. That, along with his speed should result in a relatively babip that should boost his average in the future. He's not a .300 hitter. As Rick Pitino might say, "Ben Revere is not walking through that door". However, he could certainly be a .260-.280 guy, which is plenty given his other skills.
So where does that leave us? Basically with two reasonable options. The first, which is my preference, is to continue playing him everyday but move him down to 8th in the lineup. That way he won't face quite as much scrutiny but will also get to develop against major league pitching. The second is to send him to AAA. I don't think he has anything left to prove in the minors, but who knows, maybe it will help his confidence to beat up some of those guys? Or maybe it will crush his confidence to be sent down so quickly.
In the meantime, expect Hicks to struggle. He's going to strike out a lot. But those who are watching are going to see flashes of the skills that will make him the next in a long line of Twins centerfielders.