Your place for Minnesota Twins and New Britain Rock Cats coverage, analysis and opinion.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Aaron Hicks to AA New Britain: Too Much, Too Soon?

Jeff Dooley, the voice of the New Britain Rock Cats, has been blogging about Twins Spring Training. A couple days ago, he stated in the blog that the Rock Cats' 2012 lineup would be headlined by prospect Aaron Hicks. This is generally in agreement with what I heard at the Rock Cats Hot Stove luncheon in January, where Rock Cats manager Jeff Smith suggested that, at some point in 2012, fans in Connecticut would be welcoming Hicks.

Though the promotion is certainly great news for Hicks (and for me, who will get to watch him play a bunch this year), I am wondering if it was the correct move at this moment. Hicks did not receive an invitation to Spring Training this season. Terry Ryan recently stated to Pat Reusse, regarding Hicks: "He didn't have much of a summer. We want the young players to understand that you need a good year -- not a few good weeks -- to be rewarded."

Was Aaron Hicks really ready for the promotion to
AA New Britain?
Those "few weeks" that Ryan referenced were Hicks' solid performance in the Arizona Fall League, where he ended up with a .294/.400/.559 slash line, along with 8 doubles, 5 triples and 3 home runs. Those numbers were encouraging, sure, but were comprised of just over 100 plate appearances. I think it's more important to look at what Hicks did in 2011 at single-A Ft. Myers, where he accumulated a .242/.354/.368 slash line with 110 strikeouts, 78 walks and 5 home runs in 528 plate appearances. If, as Ryan said, the organization doesn't want to reward players with a Spring Training invite (I assume they use Evite or some similar computer program to save on costs) based on a few good weeks of fall baseball, it's strange that Hicks was rewarded with a promotion to double-A on that same basis. It surely can't be based on his 2011 regular season numbers, which do not demonstrate any kind of mastery of single-A, at least with respect to offense. As we learned from the Terry Doyle experiment, success in the AFL doesn't necessarily translate to success at the next level -- whatever that next level is.

Hicks' promotion reminds me, on some levels, of Bryce Harper's recent promotion from double-A to triple-A. If you weren't paying attention to the news, it almost came off like a demotion. After all, some in the Washington Nationals camp thought Harper would begin the season as the Nationals' center fielder. It seems like it will just be a matter of months -- not years -- before Harper sets foot in the nation's capitol permanently, but I think the Nationals got a little ahead of themselves. Harper's line at double-A Harrisburg was .256/.329./.395 over 37 games. That's right, he only played 37 games at double-A. He struck out 26 times, walked 15, and hit 3 home runs, 1 triple and 7 doubles in that time. That hardly qualifies as mastery in my book, but he's on Washington's fast track, for better or worse. Don't get me wrong -- he seems a lock to be a star major league player, but why would it hurt him to bat .300 at Harrisburg before being promoted to AAA or Washington?

Unless there's a staffing emergency such as a sudden opening due to a trade, or a startling lack of depth at a particular position, it seems to me that, especially with respect to top prospects like Harper -- and Hicks -- it's best to have those players succeed at the lower levels before they are promoted. You can still promote players quickly, though. And for the Twins, if there's one position where there is not a staffing emergency or a lack of depth, it's at center field. We know that Hicks' glove is there, and from that defensive standpoint I'm sure he earned the promotion. But the streaky offensive side is alarming. I'd like to see Hicks start of at Ft. Myers and do well there, even if just for a month or two, before coming out to New Britain. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on Hicks. Did he earn the promotion, or should he be spending a bit more time in Ft. Myers to prove that he's ready for the next step offensively?

On a side note, check out my recent post at Through the Fence Baseball, which includes a great picture of Target Field taken by Michael Cuddyer.

1 comment:

  1. In the minor leagues, what is important is how you finish the season, not how you start it. The point is to keep improving. Hicks had a good ending to last season in the AFL and his defense is ready for AA.

    The other thing to understand is that competition in the FSL will be weaker than it was at the end of last year. There will be a lot of new players from low A ball and the best players, like Hicks, will have moved up to AA. If you want to keep challenging Hicks, you have to move him up.