When Aaron Hicks was brought over from Minnesota prior to the 2016 season, the trade was met with its fair share of skepticism. That’s mainly because a large group of Yankees fans didn’t want to part ways with John Ryan Murphy, who had a decent season behind the plate as Brian McCann’s backup.
The arrival of Gary Sanchez in 2016 and Murphy’s free-fall in the Twins’ minor league ranks made fans forget about the former backstop, even despite Hicks’ struggles. In his first season in the Bronx, Hicks slugged .336 with an OPS+ of 65. Over 123 games, it seemed like a solid sample size to assume that the former first round pick may never live up to his promise.
Still, Cashman stuck with him in 2017, assuring that he would be among the starters in the outfield. Hicks immediately rewarded Cashman’s faith with a borderline All-Star performance over the first three months of the season. By the end of June, Hicks was batting .290 with a .913 OPS.
Then an oblique strain derailed Hicks’ potential breakout season, as the 28-year-old slumped badly in the season half of 2017. He batted just .218 in the second half of the season with a 91 wRC+, compared to 144 in the first half. His strikeout percentage went up while his walk rate went down. Everything fell apart, despite a few bright moments like his performance against the Red Sox in a crucial August series:
Hicks once again appears to have the center field spot locked up for 2018. Regardless of his current job security, though he will need a productive season to prove his worth moving forward. The Yankees are team loaded with outfield talent, after all.
Adding Giancarlo Stanton to an outfield that already has Aaron Judge is just absurd. Meanwhile, Brett Gardner doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, and is coming off a productive season himself. Cashman’s hard stance on not moving outfield prospect Estevan Florial shows what the organization thinks of him. There are still sounds of Red Thunder permeating through the Bronx following Clint Frazier’s debut. Oh, and Jacoby Ellsbury is still hanging around somewhere.
With all of these options in the outfield, Hicks needs to show value in 2018, and show he can produce over an entire season. He was actually playing well late in 2016 before being sidelined with a hamstring injury, and then had all the oblique problems in 2017. Hicks’ most important assignment is to stay healthy, and not let an injury knock him off his square the way it did last season.
Hicks also has to improve from the left side of the plate to maximize his value. The switch-hitter batted .312 from the right side last season, but just .240 as a lefty. His OPS was .816 from the left side, compared to .903 as a righty, while also striking out more against right-handed pitching. With the addition of Stanton, the Yankees now have even more right-handed power in their lineup. Hicks would make this scary lineup even more deadly if he could pick up his production from the left side. That would really give the lineup some balance.
The Yankees have seen what Hicks can do in flashes, but that’s not enough. It’s time to see it for a full season, or he can quickly become expendable with other capable outfielders making their way through the minor league ranks.