Heading into the 2008 MLB Draft, the Twins had a few options for their No. 14 pick, and fans were hemming and hawing over what the team should do.
Some believed a power arm such as Christian Friedrich would be the best use of the selection, especially with the organizational deficiency of left-handed pitching becoming more apparent by the day. But others preferred an infielder like Casey Kelly or Conor Gillaspie. All agreed, however, that they needed an impact player.
So when the team selected Aaron Hicks, arguably the best athlete and outfielder in the draft, everyone got really excited. Things suddenly started looking up for the Twins' minor league system; there's no doubt that Minnesota's farm is still very well respect, but it didn't have nearly the quality of young talent it used to have when Hicks was added.
Now, by all means, one kid won't single-handedly change that, but Aaron is viewed by many as the most talented player in the organization despite only playing only two months of professional baseball. The wiry 6'2'', 170-lb. outfielder has drawn comparisons to Torii Hunter, Darryl Strawberry, and Adam Jones, among others. That's a great group to be mentioned with, and I personally think all of those matches are very realistic.
Of course, the best news is that at just 19 years old, Hicks has separated himself from those players mentioned above in that he has showcased a level of plate discipline that none of those greats had at such a young age. His approach at the plate (as well as his many other tools) has been demonstrated in his first 45 games of professional baseball; it was a major part of the reason his OBP ranked eighth and his OPS fifth in all of the GCL in '08. He had 18 extra-base hits, including four home runs, as well as 12 stolen bases.
As Aaron Gleeman stated, Hicks was playing in the pitcher-friendly Gulf Coast League, which actually means his .318/.409/.491 hitting line is even more impressive than originally thought. For further insight, Gleeman offered this nugget:
"...the average hitter has produced a measly .254/.333/.357 line (in the GCL) this season."
Although the Twins aren't concerned about how other players in other organizations are doing when promoting their own players, Aaron's performance gave Twins fans plenty of reason to believe should have been in Beloit at the start of the 2009 season.
Despite his tender age, Hicks is viewed as one of the best athletes in the minors. That may not prove anything to anyone about being a good baseball player, but Hicks has shown the Twins, even in a short period, that he knows his way around a diamond. And I haven't even mentioned one of the biggest highlights of his game: his glove.
Hicks was listed by BaseballAmerica.com as being the best defensive outfielder and also as having the best outfield arm in the Twins' system. Hicks was a pitcher in high school, hitting the mid-90s on the radar gun, and was scouted by some teams as a pitcher instead of an outfielder.
When considering the wisdom of promoting Aaron, consider this tale:
Minnesota 2007 first round pick Ben Revere was kept back in Extended Spring Training at the beginning of his second year in professional baseball. Despite also being a good athlete, the Twins delayed his promotion due to concerns over his defense. He lit up the box scores while playing in the GCL but didn't show nearly as much potential at the plate or with his glove as Hicks did. It eventually took an injury to D.J. Romero for Revere to make the Snappers roster, and we all know how the rest of his season went.
Revere's success in '08, Hicks' expectations, and the latter's impressive plate discipline and strong defense were all reasons that fans thought Hicks should be in Beloit.
Still, before this season, the Twins wanted to use their newly-modeled conservative approach with Hicks (as they had wanted to do with Revere) and let Hicks take his time and go to Extended Spring Training while heading for another go-round in Rookie Ball. But now, the time has finally arrived for Hicks to make head to Beloit.
It's not too often that a 19-year-old will force a team's hand or to an extent make them promote him. Only the truly special players do that, and Hicks continues to show that he is one of them. Although a small sample size and a boatload of potential is all we have to base our opinions, I think it's safe to say that players with Hicks' capabilities don't come around too often. When he's performing well, the team needs to continue to push him.
Although they want to see him get settled in at each level, his peripherals suggest that he's ready to handle tougher competition and like a spectator said (when he was in high school):
"Geez, this is Little League for him."
Although saying he's the best prospect since Joe Mauer (or even Jason Kubel) is too much for me right now, it's certainly what a lot of fans are thinking. The Twins just have to hope that aggressively (at least by Minnesota standards) promoting Hicks like they were forced to do with Revere will work out like it once did for Mauer.