Mid-Season Report Card: Aaron Hicks
Not expected to play any significant role on the 2017 Yankees at the beginning of the season, Aaron Hicks quickly turned into an impact player for the Yankees this season before hitting the disabled list with a strained oblique on June 26th. After a dreadful 2016 season, Hicks began the season as the fourth outfield, but quickly made a case for more regular at-bats with his strong first half performance. He saw every day playing time after Jacoby Ellsbury went down with a concussion, but Hicks isn't expected to be back in pinstripes until last June.
First Half Performance:
Prior to his injury, Hicks was putting together a career-best season at the plate. In 60 games, across 242 plate appearances, Hicks was hitting a robust .290/.398/.515 with ten home runs, 37 runs batted in and an OPS+ of 139. One of the most marked improvements for Hicks this season was his patience at the plate. The young outfielder had already drawn 37 walks on the season prior to the injury, which was actually already a career high. Last season, Hicks drew only 30 walks against 68 strikeouts route to a .217 batting average and .281 on-base percentage. This year, however, he was busy hitting bombs like this:
Hicks also continued to contribute strong outfield defense across all three positions. In 466.2 innings in the field, he had not yet made an error, chipped in one assist, and – per – had already accrued a net Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 4.8.
Expectations for the Second Half:
The Yankees have given youngsters Mason Williams, Jr., Tyler Wade, Dustin Fowler & Clint Frazier chances in the outfield since Hicks has gone down, but have not been able to find the same consistency the young switch hitter was able to provide earlier in the year.
Assuming there are no setbacks with his rehab from injury, I expect Hicks to return to the Bronx just after the Game and return to his fourth outfield/spot starter position on the roster. He should also return to the number two hole in the batting order – a spot the Yankees have experimented on with just about everybody on the roster not named Chase Headley or Chris Carter since Hicks went down.
While it might be unreasonable to expect Aaron Hicks to maintain a .280-.300 batting average and roughly .400 OBP the rest of the season, I don't see him slowing down all that much once he returns to the lineup. In addition to career-best power numbers, Hicks displayed an improved patience at the plate this season. With the increased confidence, he was able to attack every at-bat and was able to hit the ball with authority unlike any other time in young career.
Hicks' injury has allowed the Yankees to accelerate the youth movement and get some youngsters so early looks in the big leagues, but I would have to assume they are counting down the days until Hicks can return to action. While he won't make his first ever All-Star team this season, 2017 has been a renaissance thus far for Hicks, and he'll look to get back on track upon his return.
Another thing to keep an eye on moving forward is the possibility the Yankees give Hicks a look at first base. It was reported that he was getting infield work prior to the injury, and with Chris Carter's struggles, Greg Bird's injury woes and Matt Holliday's mysterious illness, there just might be another spot for the Yankees to work Hicks into the lineup on a nightly basis.