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What to think about Aaron Hicks’ reintroduction to left field

Don’t get used to seeing this one too much.

MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We all have fascinating memories of Aaron Hicks’ defense in center field for the Yankees. He has an incredible knack for the beautiful, diving play — whether that is intentional or not does not matter all that much. He is a good center fielder according to the eye test and doesn’t have any glaring deficiencies. The Yankees have trusted him to patrol their outfield since 2016 enough to the point that he actually hasn’t seen any time in either of the corner outfield positions since 2017. He is often injured, but when he is on the field, he is the captain of the outfield.

Despite this, the Yankees have at least dabbled into the idea Aaron Hicks’ ability to play left field. We know one thing for sure: since Aaron Hicks underwent and rehabbed from Tommy John surgery, his arm strength is only a glimmer of what it once was.

I have a wonderful memory from when I attended a game in 2016 when Hicks first joined the team. He was playing right field at the time and a pop-up was soaring towards him while a runner on third was ready to tag up and give his teammate a sac fly. After catching the ball, Hicks aggressively wound up his arm as he always does and let the ball fly. As it sailed over the cutoff man’s head I thought, “Oh he’s got a shot.” However, the ball didn’t just sail over the first baseman’s head, it also went way over the head of the catcher and pitcher backing up home plate and hit the back netting on a straight line. Till this day I have never seen a player do that from so far in the outfield.

But like I said, that is the past. Hicks now struggles to hit the cutoff man on a straight line. His arm has gone noodley. Arm strength isn’t the most important tool in the outfield anymore, but if you’re throwing balls from deep in the gap like a center fielder often does, then it’s nice to have it. Two things matter more for a center fielder: range and speed.

Over the years, Hicks’ speed has declined. That is concerning but expected. However, it’s not like the alternatives in Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo are burners themselves. The latter two are great fielders — they take great routes to balls and have very good feel for getting reads and jumps. Let’s be clear though, that doesn’t mean they are well suited as center fielders. The Yankees seem to agree with that, and Aaron Boone more or less cleared this up.

Yesterday on the broadcast, Boone spoke to Hicks’ potential ability to patrol the big space in Yankee Stadium’s left-center gap when Gallo is taking an off day. The gap has a lot of ground to cover. It’s one of the tougher left fields in baseball.

These are the plays that Hicks made in 2020. He quite clearly has a bit more range when gliding towards right center, making him a potential fit to cover the mass of ground that is Yankee Stadium’s left-center gap instead of throwing Stanton out there. That’s not to say this is automatically going to happen though. As was previously said, Hicks almost exclusively patrols center for the Yanks, but it’s good to have a grasp of all the potential outcomes.

Perhaps the combination of Gardner’s departure and Stanton’s range might push him to left at times, but it’s still a question mark and is by no means the most likely scenario. Players like Tim Locastro and Marwin González are fine candidates to play left field when Gallo isn’t there and to be frank, Stanton has proven he can do it well enough too. This is most likely just one of the spring training projects of being prepared for emergencies. However, it’s still important to pay attention to Hicks’ center field defense in 2022. He is aging and his arm is weak. If he doesn’t set himself apart from Judge, Gallo, and even Locastro, left field could be in his future.