Aaron Hicks: Started from the bottom now he’s here

When Aaron Hicks was acquired by the New York Yankees prior to the 2016 season for backup catcher, John Ryan Murphy, he was a former first-round pick who was considered to be a bust by the Minnesota Twins, and he was not a part of their future plans. Hicks was a career .225 hitter in parts of three seasons with the Twins and never appeared in more than 100 games in a single season. The Yankees expected him to be their fourth outfielder, but were willing to give him at-bats to allow him to try to rediscover his first-round potential.
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He quickly became the scapegoat of many of the Yankees’ struggles and was arguably the least liked player on the team. While he displayed stellar defense, including setting the Statcast record for velocity on a throw from the outfield, his offensive season was abysmal. Hicks slashed .217/.281/.336 in 123 games and hit only eight home runs. He received more playing time once the Yankees traded away veterans at the Trade Deadline, but it severely hurt the team to pencil him in the batting order every day.

Despite his atrocious 2016 performance, Hicks was in the Yankees plans for 2017 as the team still believed that there was something about him that was too tempting to overlook. Hicks was given an opportunity to compete for the starting right field position with the Yankees' physically gifted rookie Aaron Judge. Both players had strong springs, but Judge ultimately won the job. It is safe to say that his performance this season has made that look like a genius decision. With Gardner slotted in left and Ellsbury and his monster contract slotted to start in center, Hicks was once again regulated to fourth outfielder duty.
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Out of the gate Joe Girardi’s plan was to play Hicks against southpaw pitchers and as a result sit Gardner or Ellsbury depending on the match up. When Hicks was originally acquired, he had a reputation of being a more consistent hitter from the right side.

It is commonly said in baseball that a player needs to make the most out of any opportunity that is presented to them. Hicks knew he would have limited at-bats, but decided to make his playing time a tougher decision for Joe Girardi as the season went on and not for the reason that made Yankee fans miserable every time the public-address announcer introduced him before each of his at-bats in 2016.

Through April, Hicks was hitting .295 with an OPS of 1.043. The sample size was a miniscule 44 at-bats, but the results were promising for a player that looked lost at the dish just a year ago. Brett Gardner started losing at-bats to Hicks in the early going as he had trouble putting up quality at-bats on a regular basis. Gardner’s power surge, that can’t be referred to as a “hot-streak” anymore as it has been the case for over a month now, once again made Hicks appear to be the odd man out in the outfield mix.

Another common saying in the sport is that certain situations will work themselves out, and this came into play with Hicks as well. On the first pitch delivered by Luis Severino on May 24, Jacoby Ellsbury made a phenomenal catch as he crashed back into the wall to rob Alcides Escobar of an extra-base hit. He appeared extremely shaken up, but remained in the game at the time. Aaron Hicks would go on to replace him in the following inning, and it was later revealed that Ellsbury had a concussion and a neck sprain. He was placed on the 7-day concussion disabled list and was not projected to miss more than a week or two. Constant headaches and discomfort have kept Ellsbury sidelined for a longer period of time than the team initially thought. After the injury, Hicks was immediately named the starting center fielder and has played there in every game since.
Canadian Press
Hicks was a more than adequate replacement for Ellsbury due to his solid play and ended May with a total of eight home runs and 24 RBIs. Unlike 2016, regular at-bats have allowed Hicks to showcase monster numbers hitting mostly out of the two spot in the batting order. Thus far in June, he is sporting a line of .393/.433/.571 to go along with seven hits that have went for extra bases. Hicks also makes his hits count. For example, in his multi-homer game yesterday, he hit a home run to give the Yankees the lead and his second of the game padded on to their one run lead that he originally gave them.

While Hicks’ season has surpassed much of the baseball world’s expectations, it gets more extraordinary. Aaron Hicks has a legitimate shot to make the American League All-Star team. Has a fourth outfielder ever made an All-Star team? Considering they do not usually get much playing time and are not even on the ballot, the odds are slim to none, but Hicks’ career altering season has been nothing short of odd defying. Hicks will not start the game, because it is nearly impossible to have a write-in candidate garner enough votes for the opportunity, but his stats put him among the best in the American League.

Among American League outfielders Hicks is fourth in batting average, eighth in home runs, third in OBP, and third in SLG. Along with that he has committed zero errors in the outfield and has stolen seven bases. Hicks’ stats are more impressive given the pressure on him to perform and the fact that he did not have every day at-bats for parts of the season.
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Aaron Hicks may be the second most exciting Aaron on the Yankees to watch, but in 2017 he has truly made a name for himself. It sometimes takes a player a single season to build confidence and reach their full potential in Major League Baseball. There is always a chance that Hicks declines and falls back to his career norms, but the future is looking bright for the former Minnesota Twin. How is John Ryan Murphy doing? He has yet to play a game for the Twins this season.


Article by: Ryan Thoms
 

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