After losing the starting right-field spot to Judge, Aaron Hicks has nonetheless showed up and showed out.
Prior to the 2017 season, the New York Yankees were faced with a multitude of questions surrounding their young and inexperienced roster. The team was set to “rebuild” as pressure on veterans like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez was switched over to the likes of Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez. Yet, while these high-profile newcomers stole the proverbial show, the most noise still seems to come from the least expected players. For the Yankees, their hottest, undervalued hitter is none other than Aaron (no, not that one) Hicks.
The Yankees are unfortunately burdened with strong outfield depth that has kept Hicks fighting for a starting spot. Hicks has, however, made a strong case by putting up stellar offensive numbers, despite being known for his solid defense and good arm. In just 82 at-bats, the 27-year-old outfielder has provided manager Joe Girardi with some much needed flexibility between Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Judge, and even Matt Holliday.
|MLB Career Stats||1228||161||281||34||125||35||.229||.311||.672|
The Yankees would not have been able to go on the victorious terror to start the 2017 season if not for Aaron Hicks’ contribution, and Girardi knows it:
“Hicks continues to shine,” Girardi said to ESPN.com “Everyone is swinging the bat. It is a really good problem to have, and I know I’m sure guys don’t want to sit down, but I think over the long haul this will help every one of them, and I think that it will keep them fresh.”
While it is a “good problem to have”, it’s clear Hicks is aware of his potential. In an interview with New York Post columnist Steve Serby, Hicks mentioned his desire for consistent play:
“I don’t want to be considered … I want to be a starter. I don’t want to be a fourth outfielder. That’s kind of something that I don’t like. I’m better than a fourth outfielder.” - Aaron Hicks
This is something the Yankees knew all along as they remained hopeful after Hicks’ abysmal 2016 season (.217/.281/.336 in 327 at-bats over 123 games), an investment that seems to be paying off. Perhaps Hicks picked up where he left off last season when he hit .276 with a .339 OBP and five home runs in the last 36 games (a feat that was understandably overshadowed by Gary Sanchez’s offensive outburst).
The 14th overall draft pick by the Minnesota Twins in 2008 stopped chasing pitches outside the strike zone, much to his benefit. His strikeout rate has diminished from 20% the last two seasons, to slightly above 10% so far this year. Hicks’ power numbers have also improved as he is batting .444 (8-for-18) on fly balls — several landing in the seats —after back-to-back seasons of .141 and .151 averages.
“He’s been a professional,” stated Aaron Judge, who beat out Hicks for the starting right-fielder position. “It doesn’t matter if he’s in the lineup or not in the lineup, he’s still getting in the cages, still doing his early work, still doing everything he needs to do to prepare for the game and be ready to go.”
-Aaron Judge, to NewsDay.
Hicks is expected to see significant playing time despite a full house in the outfield. Three of the potential five outfielders have a notable history of injuries and with Holliday seeing more first-base playing time, the odds are in Hicks’ favor.
We talked [coming out of spring training] about rotating these guys and finding time for Hicksie,” Joe Girardi said. “He has played well all year. And I’ve said it over and over: I give him a lot of credit because he wasn’t happy when we left spring training, but he’s getting plenty of at-bats and [producing].”
Hicks would have been the recipient of the New York media’s attention if it weren’t for Aaron Judge’s breakout start or Gardner’s power surge while on the frontline of trade rumors. Even Ellsbury’s $80 million remaining contract demands he play as much and as often as possible.
Hicks could very well be the footnote of the Yankees’ early season successes, but his production certainly commands attention this time around.
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