MINNEAPOLIS — Aaron Hicks talked the talk when he rejoined the Twins early last week as a September call-up. He noted all the things he’d done in the minor leagues to fix his swing — including working with Hall of Famer Rod Carew — with the hope of having success in the major leagues.
While one week is a very small sample size to draw from, Hicks has so far walked the walk in his return to the majors.
He doesn’t look lost at the plate, something that couldn’t always be said about the 24-year-old outfielder earlier this season. And he’s played all three outfield positions, too, which hadn’t previously happened during his young major league career.
The Twins still have high hopes for Hicks and his place in the organization’s future. They’d be thrilled if he continues to hit like he did over the last week.
"Everything that he’s talked about, about his approach and everything else, thinking the middle of the field and not trying to do too much, is exactly what we’re seeing at the plate now," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "He’s staying on the ball and using the field and not flailing away with those wild swings, trying to hit the ball a thousand miles."
Before Hicks was demoted — not to Triple-A Rochester, but to Double-A New Britain — earlier this year, he was hitting just .198 with 42 strikeouts and nine RBI in 48 games. Those numbers weren’t good enough to cut it in the majors, so Minnesota sent Hicks back down to work on his game.
The whole process seemed to be a humbling experience for Hicks, who initially made the jump from Double-A to the majors to open the 2013 season as Minnesota’s starting center fielder. Earlier this year Hicks messed around with his swing, choosing to go from switch hitting to hitting exclusively right-handed to reverting once again to batting from both sides of the plate.
The Twins also asked him to play both corner outfield spots in the minor leagues in addition to his normal center field position. That move seemed to be a bit of foreshadowing, given that Minnesota has a center field prospect in Byron Buxton who will eventually hold down that job on an everyday basis, meaning Hicks will need to move to the corners.
Hicks’ first career big league start in right field came Thursday against the Angels, and he later moved to left field in that game for the first time in his Twins career. Two days later, Hicks got the start in left field and didn’t seem phased by it — he went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI.
In fact, since Hicks has been back, he’s racked up six RBI (almost as many as he had in his first 48 games) and went 7-for-20 (.350) at the plate and added a stolen base.
"I feel like my swing, it’s the same, but my approach to each and every at-bat is different," Hicks said last week. "I want to hit more balls up the middle, be able to have my bat in the zone a lot longer to be able to consistently hit different pitches."
Hicks’ first two seasons in the majors have been an adventure, to say the least. With a combined .201 batting average between 2013 and 2014, Hicks hasn’t yet lived up to the billing of a former first-round draft pick — he was taken 14th overall by the Twins in 2008.
But the Twins are quick to point out that Hicks is still young. His defense in the outfield has never been an issue, and he’s shown a knack for getting on base despite a low batting average (he has a .347 on-base percentage this season). There are plenty of Twins players with something to prove this September, and Hicks is perhaps at the top of that list.
"For me, I want to show I can play," Hicks said of his hope for September. "The confidence is up, and I definitely want to be the guy that’s put in the lineup because they have trust in me in the lineup. For me, it’s just going out there and showing it."
So far, he has.
"It’s something that is a growing experience for him," Gardenhire said. "He went down and worked very hard, and now he’s applying it up here, which is fun to see."