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Aaron Hicks

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Aaron Michael Hicks

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Biographical Information[edit]

Outfielder Aaron Hicks was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the first round of the 2008 amateur draft with the 14th overall selection. He was signed by scout John Leavitt for $1.78 million. Hicks is the son of former minor league outfielder Joe Hicks, who was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 12th round of the 1975 amateur draft.

A product of Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy, Hicks helped Wilson High School to a national title, its first ever, in 2007. He hit .370 as a junior and stole 44 bases in 45 tries. On the mound, he was 3-0 with 3 saves and fanned 27 in 19 innings while hitting 94 mph on the radar gun. In the AFLAC Classic, he only threw strikes on 12 of 32 pitches, fired two wild pitches and had a passed ball by his catcher. He allowed the losing run in the 9th on a Tim Beckham sacrifice fly. There was question whether he would be a pitcher or an outfielder as a pro, but the Twins chose the latter.

Hicks made his pro debut on June 22, 2008 for the GCL Twins against the GCL Red Sox and went 2 for 4 at the plate. He hit .318 in 45 games that first season. In 2009, he hit .251 in 67 games for the Beloit Snappers of the Class A Midwest League. He repeated that level in 2010 and improved to .279 in 115 games. In 2011, he played for the Fort Myers Miracle of the Florida State League. He hit .242 in 122 games with 31 doubles. Over his first four seasons, he played mainly centerfield, displaying good on-base skills, with a high of 88 walks in 2010, and has his a good number of doubles, but his personal high was 8 homers. He stole a good number of bases, but with a mediocre success rate.

In 2012, Hicks had the sort of season the Twins had been expecting when they drafted him, hitting .286/.384/.460 in 129 games for the New Britain Rock Cats of the AA Eastern League. He scored an even 100 runs, hits 21 doubles, 11 triples and 13 homers and drove in 61 runs. He was 32 for 43 on the basepaths, showing the kind of base-stealing prowess that had been missing in previous years. After that outstanding season, the Twins traded their two major league centerfielders, Ben Revere and Denard Span, in order to open a spot in the big league team's line-up for Hicks in 2013. He confirmed his bosses' confidence with a great spring, securing his place on the opening day roster. Starting in centerfield on April 1st, he went 0 for 4 with a walk in his debut against the Detroit Tigers. He had a huge night on May 13th, after starting the season hitting only .137 with one homer through 30 games. He had the first multi-hit game of his career that night, with both hits being homers off Hector Santiago, and also robbed Adam Dunn of a potential game-tying home run by leaping to snag the ball over the centerfield fence in the 6th inning; the Twins went on a late scoring binge to defeat the Chicago White Sox, 10-3. He was still struggling with a .154 batting average when he had another great game on May 28th against the Milwaukee Brewers. He deprived Carlos Gomez of a sure home run and later homered himself against Alfredo Figaro as the Twins won, 6-5, in 14 innings. The following day, he robbed Rickie Weeks of an RBI single with a diving catch in the top of the 4th inning, then immediately homered off Marco Estrada in the bottom of the frame as the Twins again defeated the Brewers, 4-1. He went on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring on June 10th. He ended up hitting .193 with 8 homers and 27 RBIs in 61 games.

Hicks improved slowly over the next two seasons. In 2014, he broke the Mendoza Line with a .215 average, although with only 1 homer and 18 RBIs in 69 games. In 2015, he played 97 games and began to look like a major league hitter, with a .256 average, 11 homers and 33 RBIs. His OPS+ was up to 95, and he continued to be an excellent defender in centerfield, while stealing 13 bases in 16 attempts. He was particularly good against left-handed pitching, hitting .307 and slugging .495 against them. However, he was also being pushed by Byron Buxton, a very similar player rated even higher as a prospect, who made his debut during the 2015 season. On November 11th, the Twins traded him to the New York Yankees in return for C John Ryan Murphy. The Yankees had a crew of outfielders on the wrong side of 30 and wanted to get younger and more athletic at the position. Hicks obviously fit the bill as on April 20, 2016 he displayed his tremendous arm by gunning down Danny Valencia of the Oakland Athletics at home plate on a throw measured at 105.5 mph - the highest speed ever recorded in the major leagues on any throw or pitch. He played a career-high 123 games that season but his batting average fell back to .217 with 8 homers and 31 RBIs. Still he managed to retain his job in 2017 and appeared to be transformed as a hitter. Over the first two months of the year, he hit .298 with 8 homers and 24 RBIs in 40 games. He received a lot of playing time when Jacoby Ellsbury was placed on the disabled list in May, and thrived in the situation. On June 1st, he had the best game of his career in a 12-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, going 4-for-5 with 3 doubles and 6 RBIs to push his average to .317. He followed that a couple of days later on June 9th with a pair of homers in an 8-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. He ran into injury trouble during his break-out season though, as he was on the disabled list from June 26th to August 10th with a right oblique strain, and again starting on September 3rd, this time with a left oblique strain. He had had trouble finding his hitting stroke again after the first injury, as he hit just .207 in 22 games before returning to the DL. He was re-activated on September 26th, just in time to get a few games in before the start of the postseason, and in the 1st inning of his first game back, against the Tampa Bay Rays, he robbed Wilson Ramos of a potential grand slam, with a magnificent leaping catch. He ended up hitting .266 in 88 games, with 15 homers and 52 RBIs. In the postseason, after going 1 for 3 in the Wild Card Game, he shined in the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians, with a .316 average, 1 homer and 4 RBIs in the Yankees' upset win. He cooled down in the ALCS though, when he hit just .083 against the Houston Astros.

Hicks was the Opening Day centerfielder in 2018, going 2 for 4 on March 29th against the Toronto Blue Jays. However, the next day, he was placed on the disabled list with a strained intercostal muscle, although the injury was not expected to keep him out for more than a week. He returned on April 12th and in his second game back, homered twice, one of them inside-the-park, and drove in 3 runs in an 8-6 win over the Detroit Tigers. When he hit his second inside-the-park homer of the year on May 19th, he became the first Yankees player since Mickey Mantle in 1958 to have done so; Mantle had hit three such homers that season. On July 1st, he had a three-homer game in an 11-1 win over the Boston Red Sox. He played a career-high 137 games and hit .248 with 27 homers and 79 RBIs; he also drew 90 walks and scored 90 runs. In the postseason, he went 1 for 4 with a double, a run and an RBI in New York's win over the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card Game. However, he was hurt in the Division Series which the Yankees lost to the Red Sox and went only 1 for 5 in 2 games.

In February 2019, he signed a seven-year contract extension with the Yankees worth $70 million. But he was hurt again in spring training, straining his back in batting practice on March 1st, making him miss opening day. He was finally back on the roster on May 13th, having missed the first six weeks of the season. On June 29th, he became the first player to hit a major league homer in Europe when he connected off Rick Porcello in the 1st inning of the first of two games between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox at London Olympic Stadium on June 29th. He hit .235 in 59 games with 12 homers and 36 RBIs after missing the first 40 games of the season with a lower back strain, and almost all of August and September with a flexor strain. He was reactivated in time for the postseason, going 2 for 13 with a homer in the Yankees' loss to the Houston Astros in the ALCS. He was back healthy in 2020 and played in 54 of the Yankees' 60 games in the pandemic-shortened season. He hit .225 with 6 homers and 21 RBIs, but the superficially unimpressive numbers did not tell the whole story as his very good walk rate meant his OBP was a very good .379 and his OPS+ was 122. After going 1 for 8 in the two-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians in the Wild Card Series, he excelled in the closely-fought loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in the Division Series, going 7 for 18 (.389) with a double, 2 runs and 3 RBIs.

In 2021, he started the season as the Yankees' #3 hitter, as manager Aaron Boone decided to have the switch-hitting Hicks break up a string of righthanded batters at the top of the line-up. He started the year slowly, hitting .129 in his first 8 games before he announced on April 12th that he was sitting out that night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays as his mind was not on baseball given the recent events in Brooklyn Center, MN where a young black motorist had been killed by a white policewoman in a stark reminder of the death of George Floyd a year earlier. As a former member of the Twins and African-American resident of the Minneapolis area, he felt particularly affected by the community's pain. It was basically a lost season, as he played his last game on May 12th due to an injury to his left wrist and never returned. In 32 games, he batted .194 with 4 homers and 14 RBIs. Things did not go much better in 2022, even though he was healthy all season apart for a brief stay on the paternity list in April. In the first half, when the Yankees were having an incredible run, he hit .236, but then the bottom fell out in the second half, just as the team as a whole began to struggle. It didn't help that, for some unexplainable reason, he simply could not buy at hit at home and became the constant target of the boo birds at New Yankee Stadium. He would have been benched, as Joey Gallo had been before being traded away, but a rash of injuries meant that he had to be in the line-up more often than his performance warranted, due to a lack of alternatives. He hit a nadir on September 9th, when he missed two consecutive fly balls in a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays and was removed from the game after the 4th inning, the stress of a difficult season having seemingly made him fall completely apart. The first ball fell out of his glove, and then he failed to react and allowed two runs to score, and on the next ball he took a bad route and it fell behind him for another double. He had also struck out in his first two at-bats, so the night could not have gone any worse. He finished the year at .216 in 130 games, with 8 homers and 40 RBIs, for an OPS+ of 86. There was no redemption in the postseason, either, as he was 0 for 3 in New York's win over the Cleveland Guardians in the Division Series, and then did not appear in their loss to the Houston Astros in the ALCS after injuring his knee against Cleveland.

It looked like his time as a starter with the Yankees was over, but the team failed to re-sign Andrew Benintendi to play left field and he went to spring training in 2023 as the leading candidate to start there. However, he was still struggling badly, as after 22 games, going into the game of May 8th, he was barely hitting .143 and had just collected his first extra-base hit - a double - in his most recent game. He was booed regularly at New Yankee Stadium, but also on the road wherever Yankees fans were present in any kind of numbers. In spite of his lack of production, manager Aaron Boone had no choice but to play him, as the team was racked by injuries. He finally hit his first homer of the year in a 7-2 win against the lowly Oakland Athletics that day. He did have a three-hit game against the Blue Jays on May 18th, but it was too late to save his job. He was designated for assignment on May 20th after hitting .188 in 28 games, for an OPS+ of 47. The Yankees were ready to swallow the $27.5 million remaining on his contract, as it was very unlikely any team would agree to take him off their hands. Greg Allen, acquired in a trade the day before, took his place on the 40-man roster. His release became official on May 26th; at the time, Hicks was the Yankees' longest-tenured position player. On May 30th, he was signed by the Baltimore Orioles, who had just lost CF Cedric Mullins to a groin injury. He had a nice bounce-back with the O's, batting .275 in 65 games, with 7 homers, 31 RBIs and an OPS+ of 127. The Orioles went on to post the best record in the American League that season, and he played in all three games of the Division Series against the Texas Rangers, going 2 for 8 with a homer and 5 RBIs.

Hicks did not really fit in with the Orioles' longer term plans, however, as they were a young team made up almost exclusively of home-grown players, so while they were glad for his contribution over the second half of their break-out season, they did not seek to re-sign him when he became a free agent after the season. A team wanting him only needed to pay the league minimum salary of $740,000, given the Yankees were still on the hook for two years of the large deal he had signed back in 2019, but there was still some risk involved given his recent checkered history. He agreed to a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels on January 29th; the Angels already had a crowd of players to play the outfield, even if many of these also came with question marks, so there was no guarantee he would even make the team out of spring training.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 1 (2018)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Rhett Bollinger: "Angels agree to deal with OF Aaron Hicks", mlb.com, January 29, 2024. [1]
  • Pete Caldera: "Yanks' Aaron Hicks erasing the past with every swing", USA Today Sports, June 2, 2017. [2]
  • John Fay: "Hicks designated for assignment, ending 8-year Yanks tenure", mlb.com, May 20, 2023. [3]
  • Bryan Hoch: "Hicks' heart in Minneapolis, Yanks OF sits out", mlb.com, August 13, 2021. [4]
  • Bryan Hoch: "Cashman expects Hicks to start in left field", mlb.com, January 23, 2023. [5]
  • Liz Roscher: "Yankees designate OF Aaron Hicks for assignment, still owe him $20M+", Yahoo! Sports, May 20, 2023. [6]

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