Aaron Hicks’ arrival on the Yankees’ 2019 ALCS roster was unexpected, to say the least. After battling injuries for most of the season, which allowed him to play in just 59 games before the playoffs, Hicks was believed to be done for the year in September after suffering what was later revealed to be a partially torn UCL.
After working out his arm with a throwing program in Arizona, Hicks told the Yanks he felt good to go, and he was in uniform for the ALCS against the Astros. Good thing he was, as he provided one of the most memorable moments of the postseason, when the Yanks were in do-or-die mode in Game Five.
The fact that Hicks was able to come into this series after playing just two games since the end of July and be such a major factor was a pleasant surprise. It also perhaps provided a foreshadowing of what we can expect from Hicks when he returns next season, hopefully some time around the All-Star break.
The home run off Verlander was obviously his biggest of the season, but the at-bat as a whole was what we’ve come to expect from Hicks since he arrived in New York. Hicks’ dinger off the foul pole came on a full count, which is something of a habit for him, and should vastly raise his floor when he comes back from Tommy John next year. Hicks has been exceptional at working counts over recent seasons, and what he was able to do in terms of plate discipline in the ALCS, when he went up against the best pitching staff in baseball after not seeing game action since August, was no small feat.
The homer off Verlander was one of five full counts Hicks worked in his 13 at-bats during the series, and he saw at least five pitches in an at-bat 10 times during the five games in which he saw action. For someone who hadn’t played in over a month, that’s an incredibly promising output, especially given the stakes and the competition.
Of course, this isn’t an anomaly for Hicks. Back in 2018, when he was mostly healthy and played in 137 games, Hicks logged the sixth-highest number of plate appearances (134) that resulted in a full count in all of baseball, just ahead of Mike Trout and Matt Olson, who each had 132. Hicks has always been able to make pitchers work and help out those behind him in the lineup. Even if he takes some time to shake off any lingering rust after he returns next year, his eye at the plate will be enough to keep him productive until he’s able to settle in and make quality contact.
It wasn’t easy for Didi Gregorius when he returned from the same surgery, but he doesn’t have the same discipline and walk tendencies as Hicks, who should fare much better in the weeks after he gets back from his recovery. Of course, it’s impossible to predict just how Hicks will perform after a major surgery, but given his eye at the plate, it’s logical to assume that his floor will be much higher than almost anyone else that would be coming back from extended time away from the game.