New York Yankees’ fourth outfielder Aaron Hicks didn’t get off to the glorious of starts but he’s assuredly turning into the player he was obtained to be.
In the deal that sent the 24-year-old catcher John Ryan Murphy to the Minnesota Twins for the 26-year-old switch-hitting outfielder, the Yankees received a boat load of talent for a backup catcher they had no spot for.
Although many would have preferably seen general manager Brian Cashman go out and inherit a starting pitcher, the man they got was a switch-hitting outfielder who improved his OPS from .615 to .721 in 2015. Even better, his OPS against lefties was .870 and was brought to a lineup that was embarrassed by southpaws all season.
In an outfield with Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran who all but the latter struggle against southpaws and are all prone to injury, Hicks knew he would find his way into the lineup for some regular playing time.
At the very least, Hicks was going to displace Chris Young as the Yankees’ platoon outfielder but with those production and injury concerns last year with the outfield, he could play his way into something greater.
His first months in pinstripes, however, made fans doubt his capability to become that greater something and it was justifiably so.
In 16 games (seven starts) in April, Hicks slashed a nasty .087/.160/.087 while his OPS was at .247 and he had failed to hit a single home run. Thankfully for him and a blessing in disguise for the Yankees, opportunity knocked due to the hip injury sustained by Jacoby Ellsbury.
Since the calendar turned to May, Hicks has a slash line of .282/.302/.487 while maintaining an OPS of .790 and two home runs. In the past week, he as a .381 batting average thanks in large part due to a 3-for-4 performance against the Kansas City Royals in their 7-3 win on Thursday night.
On Saturday against the first-place Chicago White Sox, the former first round pick drove an RBI double into right to pad the Yankee lead in an eventual 2-1 win.
“For me, it’s just the opportunity that I’m getting to play every day, and I’ve been able to get consistent at-bats and I’ve been able to just relax, just swing and just play,” Hicks told the NY Post. “Go out there and just play my game to help this team win.”
Now, we’re getting a glimpse at precisely what the Yankees traded for. A young outfielder with his growth stunted by being in the fast lane to the majors and a new location finally starting to figure things out.
One aspect of Hicks’ game that never had a setback in the spotlight, were his defensive abilities. He recorded the fastest throw ever recorded from the outfield when he gunned down Danny Valencia trying to score on a sacrifice fly on April 20 with a throw of 105.5 MPH, according to Stat Cast.
The fan’s prejudgments on Hicks were generated by the magnification of an April depression by the entirety of the offense. Like the common cold, they can be contagious and you may oftentimes catch it as the rest of the lineup shuts down the way it did.
The team as a whole scored the least runs in all of baseball (74) and to add insult to injury, their .633 OPS was fourth-worst in baseball behind the sluggish Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Los Angeles Angels.
No one assumes nor am I saying that Hicks is a true .360 hitter as his previous week would tell us, but that .087 average is far from what he is, too. When he, or anyone, is comfortable at the plate and getting more playing time, that’s when you see the best of results. Now, a month and a half into 2016, he is finally comfortable.
The fans get to sit back down and realize that the New York Yankees have a kid that will accommodate his team with depth both at the plate and in the outfield.
Although Ellsbury is expected to return to the lineup as soon as possible, it would be logical for the Yankees to continue giving Hicks routine at-bats to keep him in the swing of things. His talent, potential, and everything he brings to the table can’t be ignored.