MINNEAPOLIS — Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks was determined to give up on switch-hitting for good and focus only on batting from the right side of the plate, but Rod Carew eventually talked him out of it.
When a Hall of Famer with 3,053 career hits talks, young players would be wise to listen. That’s exactly what Hicks did during his time in the minor leagues, as he returned to switch-hitting. The result of several months’ worth of work in the minors has led to Hicks rejoining Minnesota as a September call-up.
"(Carew) was telling me that it’s a blessing to be able to be a switch hitter and be able to hit from both sides of the plate," Hicks said Tuesday, the first day he and seven other call-ups joined the Twins before their game against the White Sox. "That’s when I made the decision to go back. From then on, it’s been good."
Hicks started the 2014 season as the Twins’ center fielder, but he struggled at the plate. He batted just .198 in 48 games and eventually decided one day to stop hitting from the left side of the plate, intending to devote his time to his natural right-handed swing.
His continued woes offensively led to a demotion for Hicks — not to Triple-A Rochester, but to Double-A New Britain. It was during that time with the Rock Cats that Hicks gathered hitting tips from Carew, who helped Hicks realize that messing around with your swing at the upper levels of the minors wasn’t an easy thing to do.
So Hicks went back to batting from both sides of the plate, and his confidence started to grow.
"It was kind of just the moment I went back to switch hitting, really," he said when asked what clicked for him in the minors. "Things started clicking, and I just went on with that. I’m just trying to do what I can to compete every day and to help my team win."
In 43 games with New Britain, Hicks hit .297 with an on-base percentage of .404. His numbers dipped a bit at Rochester after his promotion, but he still batted .278 with a .349 OBP.
Perhaps just as important was the fact that Hicks started playing both corner outfield spots along with his usual role as a center fielder. He played a total of 11 games in the corners at Double-A and eight more (four in each corner) with Rochester.
"It’s actually kind of fun playing a lot of different positions and trying to learn a different spot on the field rather than just being a center fielder," Hicks said. "I felt like me playing the corners actually made me a better center fielder because I was so used to being able to adjust to different balls in the corners."
Hicks’ willingness to move around the outfield also showed Twins manager Ron Gardenhire that the young outfielder’s center fielder mentality changed for the better since his demotion. He was willing to try new things, and willing to learn.
The payoff came in another trip back to the majors — for good, Hicks hopes.
"He’s an athlete. As I talked to him earlier, he says, ‘Whatever you want to do, that’s fine with me. I’ll go anywhere out there,’" Gardenhire said. "That’s a little different theory than he’s had before, too, because he was known as a center fielder. I think through all of this he’s learned to adjust a little bit. Hopefully that’ll make him a better player."
Achter is finally a big leaguer: One of the eight players called up by the Twins on Monday was pitcher A.J. Achter, who may have the best story of any of the eight.
For starters, he’s the only one of the eight call-ups without any major league experience, meaning his first trip to the mound this month will be a special one. On top of that, Achter is proof that late-round picks can still make it to the major leagues.
Achter was the Twins’ 46th-round pick out of Michigan State back in 2010. As Achter pointed out Tuesday, MLB’s draft doesn’t even have that many rounds anymore. (The draft is now just 40 rounds.)
"It’s been a big motivation for me to try to prove some teams wrong and then also try to prove to the Twins that even though it was a late-round pick, they made a good decision taking me," Achter said. "I’ve used that as motivation from Day 1, but to be honest with you, once you get to pro ball, you’ve got to perform and produce. I’m thankful enough I’ve been able to do that."
Achter, 26, was drafted as a starting pitcher but was moved to the bullpen in 2012. He made it as high as Triple-A Rochester in 2013 and returned to the Red Wings in 2014. In 40 relief appearances at Rochester this year, Achter posted a 2.38 ERA with 69 strikeouts and 24 walks.
"It doesn’t matter where you get drafted. There’s always that heart inside that tells you whether you can or can’t," Gardenhire said. "If you let people tell you you can’t do this or can’t do that, you’ll never make it in this game. This guy has never quit. He didn’t worry about where he was drafted, and here he is in the big leagues. That’s a good story."
Twins prospect Gordon injured: Shortstop Nick Gordon, Minnesota’s first-round pick in this year’s draft, suffered a broken finger with rookie league Elizabethton, according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.
Gordon, 18, was the fifth overall pick in the draft out of Olympia (Fla.) High School and thrived in his first year as a professional. In 57 games with Elizabethton, he hit. 294 with a .333 on-base percentage and 11 stolen bases.
The injury to Gordon is the latest in a string of bad luck for Twins prospects. Third baseman Miguel Sano’s season was over before it started as he had Tommy John surgery. Outfield prospect Byron Buxton’s season ended with a concussion in his first game at Double-A, and pitching prospects Alex Meyer and Kohl Stewart both suffered late-season injuries.