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Why Aaron Hicks could be the Yankees’ most improved player in 2017

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We will all be watching how the Baby Bombers improve in 2017, but don’t forget about Hicks.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

From the numbers Aaron Hicks put up through the first four months of the 2016 season, it’s hard to process that he is a former first-round draft pick.

Hicks’ batting average was below the Mendoza line for much of the regular season, and his cannon of an arm showed little accuracy in the outfield. On top of that, he was absent on the base paths, failing to record a stolen base until the calendar hit August. This was after posting a career high in steals in Minnesota the year before.

Although Hicks’ overall statistics for the 2016 season are ugly without a doubt, evidence hid behind those numbers of a player starting to recognize some of his potential that scouts saw when he was drafted in 2008. His resurgence went relatively unnoticed due to Gary Sanchez and the influx of youth that kept the Yanks in the Wild Card hunt. Hicks actually had something to do with the Yanks’ improvement, and should continue to be an important piece of the puzzle in 2017.

In terms of his approach at the plate, Hicks added a leg kick after the trade deadline and was able to generate more power and solid contact, resulting in a .280/.330/.439 triple slash in August. His BABIP was .283 during the second half of the season, compared to a dismal .223 BABIP during the first half, a jump aided in part by a rise in line-drive percentage (16% to 18.3%) and hard contact percentage (25.7% to 33.3%). Hicks also went from zero steals through four months to three steals in just one month (August). This could be attributed to him reaching base more, or it could suggest an increase in confidence.

Unfortunately, Hicks suffered a hamstring injury after his resurgent August and had to miss some time as soon as he was hitting his stride. He was still able to show signs of life when he returned in the middle of the month, posting a monthly BABIP of .286 while recording his highest monthly OBP of the year.

If Aaron Judge takes more time to adjust to big=league pitching while Hicks continues his upward trend from last summer, he coulde to be an important piece to a Yankees offense that will be looking for a boost wherever they can get it.

Hopefully Hicks can maintain the extra power that came around with his leg kick approach at the plate. In 75 games during the first half of the season, Hicks hit just three home runs with 55 total bases and an OPS of .562. In just 48 games during the second half of the season, he hit five homers with the same amount of total bases while posting an OPS of .688—much better.

Hicks can be a much more valuable piece to the team than some may think. His career has been an overall disappointment thus far, but at 27 years old, there is still time. He clearly helped the Yanks in their wins last season. He slugged at a .479 clip with an OPS of .805 in Yankee wins last season, as opposed to .195 and .428 in losing efforts. That’s a huge difference.

The bench looks to be an issue for the Yanks in 2017, especially with Tyler Austin expected to be out awhile. If Judge takes the right field spot, the Yanks will need some help coming off the bench. Hicks needs to immensely improve against lefties, but if the last two months of the 2016 season showed us anything, he is on the right track, and can surprise a lot of people when the season finally gets underway.