Aaron Hicks recently said that he is “definitely ready to go out there and play,” after being out of action since August 3 with right elbow discomfort. The outfielder has been active in the last few days, taking part in full baseball workouts in the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa.
The Yankees have been running Brett Gardner in center most of the time with Hicks on the shelf, with Mike Tauchman (when he was healthy) and Cameron Maybin receiving a handful of reps, as well.
While Gardy is a Gold Glover in left field and does just fine up the middle, Hicks entered the season as the Yankees’ starting center fielder. He logged 499.1 innings in the outfield this season, all of them in center, and his contract, which extends through 2025 with a club option for 2026, indicates the Yankees want Hicks patrolling the outfield for some time.
That is why, when healthy, Hicks should be starting, or at least in strong consideration to do so, should the Yankees feel strongly enough about his physical state to include him on the ALCS roster (it appears they are). He is, at the least, as good as Gardner out there, which gives the Yankees two very capable center fielders as they face Houston, a team that finished inside eighth in fly ball percentage at 37.3, and possibly the winner of St. Louis (tenth, with 36.5%) and Washington (seventh, with 37.4). They all hit their fair share of liners, too. There will be plenty of batted balls to the outfield.
Hicks can give the Yankees options when it comes to defensive alignments and the lineup. His high OBP allows him to lead off or hit near the top of the order, where his power and speed also play up. His switch-hitting ability can give the Yankee the rare lefty swing against Houston’s terrifying set of right-handed hurlers.
With the glove, he could spare Gardner in center and push him to left field, freeing the DH slot for manager Aaron Boone to play one of Giancarlo Stanton and Edwin Encarnacion and give the other one a breather if needed for health reasons (we are talking hypothetical scenarios here; the team will most likely want those two bats in the lineup every night.)
Hicks had a 0.6 UZR and 0.8 UZR/150 this year in limited time in center field, along with a -1 DRS. He has put up better numbers in the recent past with the glove, however, most notably in 2017 (13.2 UZR/150 and 12 DRS.)
It should be noted that Gardner has had a good season in center field for the Yanks. His numbers, at least this season, have been comparable to those of Hicks. In fact, he performs better when it comes to UZR (1.7) and UZR/150 (3.1,) but worse in DRS (-2.)
Hicks boasts a strong throwing arm. He has a cannon and has shown it time and time again, but it should be noted that his injury was to his throwing arm, so it may not be 100 percent. The fact that Tommy John surgery was considered at some point is somewhat concerning. Neither Gardner nor Cameron Maybin are known for their arm strength, though.
An off-season with the bat, but still respectable
Yes, he has been injured for quite some time in 2019, but there is not a more appropriate reminder of Hicks’ talent as a ballplayer than the fact that he finished last season with 5.0 fWAR. That is an excellent number, in the upper echelons of the American League.
This season hasn’t been his best. He had to battle a lower back strain and the strained right flexor he recently overcame. In between, he posted a triple slash line of .235/.325/.443, two percent above average per his 102 wRC+, but a far cry from his 129 mark last year.
He had issues making contact. His K% went up from 19.1% in 2018 to 28.2% this year, an alarming increase. The good thing is that he can still take walks with the best of them (12.2%, a decrease from his 15.5% mark last year.)
Hicks posted his worst contact percentage so far at 69.7%. He had a 78.0% mark last year, and he needs to show improvement in that area to secure playing time in the postseason.
We know what Hicks is capable of, though. Last year he set a career high in homers, played good defense with a tremendous arm, and added value on the base paths. That’s the kind of player he can be when healthy. If he is truly as ready as he says, he can help the Yankees win the World Series.