Just over a year ago, the Yankees sent catcher and legendary quote giver John Ryan Murphy to the Twins for Aaron Hicks, a switch-hitting outfielder who had struggled to live up to the hype as the 14th overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft. In 2015, he set a career high with 97 games at the big league level, putting together a .256/.323/.398 slash line, while playing above average defense.
Unfortunately, Hicks quickly found himself in the same predicament as Alfonso Soriano in 2014 and Garrett Jones in 2015. With a full outfield, Joe Girardi was unable to put him in the lineup consistently. When Hicks was in the lineup, he didn’t do very well, possibly due to the challenges of getting his timing down from two sides of the plate with limited at bats. Through July, Hicks had an anemic .187/.201/.287 slash line.
After the Yankees’ fire sale at the trade deadline, Gary Sanchez promptly stole the spotlight. But Hicks also quietly showed signs of life late in the season. After the trade deadline, Hicks put together a .271/.333/.424 slash line, good for a wRC+ of 105. Right as he was finally putting it together, he hit the disabled list with a hamstring injury, which may have derailed some of the momentum he had going.
During his resurgence, he seemed to have a new approach at the plate. He upped his pull rate to 44.2%, compared to 35.8% in 2015. He also increased his flyball rate to 41.9%, after hitting flyballs 35.4% a year prior. His new plan paid dividends, as his hard-hit percentage jumped to 34.7%. For reference, Hicks’ former teammate Brian Dozier also had a 34.7% hard-hit rate in 2016, and hit 42 home runs.
In a small sample size, Hicks appeared to demonstrate the ability to pull the ball with more authority when given consistent playing time. Looking at some of the scouting reports on Hicks, combined with what he had to say to reporters, it would make sense. In 2015, then manager Ron Gardenhire criticized Hicks’ makeup, with reports that he would show up to the clubhouse on game days not knowing who the opposing team’s starting pitcher was. This August, Hicks noted the importance of putting together a game plan for the opposing team’s starter, something he could do more often with consistent playing time:
For Hicks, a lack of tools was never the issue. He is still a work in progress, and is learning about the preparation needed to succeed as an everyday big league hitter. With the likes of Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier eagerly awaiting opportunities to play at the big league level, Hicks will still have to fight for at bats in 2017. But if he is given a chance to hold down an outfield position, he might just surprise everyone with what he can do.
Data is courtesy of Fangraphs.