Wednesday Dish: Hicks Ready To Shine In Beloit

Aaron Hicks remembers watching a Twins game the day before his high school graduation. He remembers sitting along the field, soaking in the big stage a few days after being selected in the first round of the 2008 draft.

Hicks knew this was where he wanted to be. He was going to do everything in his power to get there, and as quickly as possible.

“It’s definitely my dream to be there,” Hicks said. “I’m pretty sure it’s everybody’s dream.”

Being at the Metrodome might be Hicks’ most memorable baseball moment growing up. But looking into a crystal ball seven years ago, not even he could have predicted his dream. At the time, Hicks hadn’t even played organized baseball. Instead, he was concentrating on a different game with a different stick—golf.

“My dad really wanted me to play golf, putting in all those years and all that work,” Hicks said, who started golfing as a 3-year-old. “He wanted me to become the next Tiger Woods. But I had different plans.”

A Dream Deferred

When Hicks was 13, after learning that his father, Joseph, was a 12th-round pick by the Padres in 1975, Hicks convinced his father to let him play baseball. His dad gave Aaron one stipulation: He had to learn how to switch-hit.

“(My father’s) career ended basically when he got hit in the face with a 95 mile per hour fastball, and it was righty-righty,” Hicks said “That’s why he made me hit from both sides.”

His father thought either Hicks would struggle so much from the left side that he would quit, or he would work at it and excel. Hicks’ golf swing helped build core muscle strength and hand-eye coordination well enough to be an all-star in his first competitive baseball season at 13 years old.

He ended up trading the golf clubs, which allowed him to be a scratch golfer, for a baseball bat, which has presented new opportunities.

Now, the switch-hitting Hicks, the 14th overall pick in 2008, is the Twins’ No. 1 prospect. The Long Beach native hit .318/.409/.491 with four home runs and 27 RBIs in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year. He also stole 12 bases in 14 attempts.

It was a quick track for someone who didn’t pick up a bat until he was nine—and that was just to fool around with his brother on a playground. It might not have been as fast as Hicks wanted, though. Instead of beginning this season at low Class A Beloit, Hicks stayed behind for extended spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. He joined Beloit on June 20.

“It’s a belief in our process to not rush guys at the beginning stages of their career. We like to make sure that they’re getting the proper instruction,” Twins vice president of player development Mike Radcliff said. “We like to put them and keep them in places where success benefits their development.”

Hicks worked daily on improving his route running, baserunning, approach at the plate and throws down the line, among other things.

Still, none of those skills are what first come to mind when Twins farm director Jim Rantz describes Hicks.

“Speed, switch-hitter and good athlete,” Rantz said, who added that although games are not sanctioned, Hicks hit better than .300 in extended spring action. “He’s truly a special player.”

An ‘Exciting’ Prospect

After nine months of waiting since the end of last season, Hicks got his chance to show off how much he has learned when he earned a promotion to Beloit. Though there were thoughts of starting Hicks in short-season Elizabethton (Appalachian), Rantz said it was time for a bigger challenge.

Hicks is ready for it.

“I want to be the guy,” he said. “I want to be the guy of the league that everybody has to worry about.”

He got off to a good start. He was 3-for-8 in his first three games, with three runs scored, four walks and two strikeouts.

While his numbers have been impressive early in his pro career, Hicks has tried to work deeper counts to get his pitch to hit, while being short and quick to the ball rather than being a free-swinger.

But Hicks has the total package. He flashed mid-six-second speed in the 60-yard dash, which translates into good range and goes along with a strong arm that reached 97 mph off the mound in high school.

While Rantz did not want to compare the 6-foot-2, 170-pounder to any particular player, Hicks has garnered comparisons to Darryl Strawberry. Hicks’ favorite players are Gary Matthews Jr. and Carlos Beltran, whom Hicks has tried to model his game after.

Still, Radcliff gave Hicks as glowing a compliment as you can give to a 19-year-old.

“You can’t put ‘exciting’ on too many guys, but he has a chance to be real exciting, and that’s hard to find,” Radcliff said. “He’s got a chance to have the full package of abilities . . . He has upside potential that very few players in our organization has had or have.”