Aaron Hicks' career with the Yankees is off to an inauspicious beginning. Hicks has played in 20 of the team's first 27 games, and even after last night's heroics, he is hitting just .114 with a .362 OPS. In addition, Hicks came down with traumatic bursitis in his left shoulder after attempting a diving catch against Tampa, an injury that did not land him on the DL, but which did require rest, as well as a cortisone shot. This is certainly not the start either Hicks or the Yankees imagined when he was acquired from the Twins for John Ryan Murphy in November.
Despite his slow start, Alex Rodriguez's DL stint due to a strained hamstring presents Hicks with a wonderful opportunity to become a key contributor on a team in dire need of a boost. With Rodriguez out indefinitely, Carlos Beltran is poised to spend much of his time at DH, opening up a spot for Hicks in right field.
Hicks was acquired in part to bring some balance to the team's left-handed heavy lineup, particularly in light of Chris Young's departure in the offseason. However, Hicks was going to have to force the issue to see regular at bats against right-handed pitching. Now, with Rodriguez hurt, Hicks finds himself positioned to receive playing time regardless of whether the Yankees are facing a southpaw or not.
One advantage that Hicks has over Dustin Ackley, another candidate to receive more game action, is his athleticism and his ability to make a difference with his glove, arm, and legs. Hicks has already made some dazzling plays in the outfield, and while Ackley can hold his own, he lacks Hicks' arm strength and range as a defender.
The recently promoted Ben Gamel also presents an intriguing option for Joe Girardi, but he does not have the high-end upside that made Hicks a former first round draft pick. It is this upside that convinced the Yankees to part with the highly touted Murphy for a player with a .655 career OPS entering this season, and to do so with outfield prospects including Gamel, Aaron Judge, and Slade Heathcott near ready in Triple-A.
Beyond the immediate possible impact he could make as a defender, there is also reason to believe that Hicks is primed to break out at the plate. His .103 BABIP and above-average exit velocity suggest an element of bad luck in limited action thus far in 2016. Regular at-bats should only help to improve Hicks' consistency, and Rodriguez's absence provides the reassurance that those at bats should keep coming even while Hicks works to turn things around. Last night was certainly a good start and give the pop in his bat, it should hardly be a surprise that his homer was the longest of the year by a Yankee.
The next few weeks are an important period for both the Yankees and Hicks. The team has dug itself a deep hole in the early going, and will need to find a way to develop some momentum if it hopes to be relevant in August and September, never mind October.
Hicks' tools offer the promise of a more dynamic, aggressive approach offensively, something this team has lacked with its numerous aging, athletically-challenged regulars. Still, Hicks will need to produce to earn his spot in the lineup moving forward; both this year, and as the Yankees seek to rebuild around young talent in 2017 and beyond. For both the Yankees' and Hicks' sake, fans can only hope that he is able to do so.