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TWINS: After rough 2013, Hicks tries to avoid becoming yesterday's news in 2014

by Mike McFeely

Fort Myers, Fla.

What have you done for me lately?

That's the question Minnesota Twins fans would likely ask Aaron Hicks, who a year ago tore up the Grapefruit League en route to making the major-league club out of spring training. Fans and media were already annointed Hicks the next in a line of great Twins center fielders like Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter. 

Never mind that Hicks was a 23-year-old rookie who had never played above Double-A ball. 

It did not turn out well for either Hicks or the Twins.

Aaron Hicks

The alleged five-tool player was overwhelmed from the first day of the regular season and never looked comfortable. He didn't hit, his defense suffered and he was called out very publicly by manager Ron Gardenhire after non-chalantly flipping a throw from the outfield.

Hicks was sent back to the minor leagues Aug. 1 after playing 81 games. He hit .192 with 84 strikeouts in 281 at-bats. He was not recalled in September after battling injuries and struggling at Triple-A Rochester, where he hit just .222.

It was ugly. With a capital U. And probably the G, L and Y, too,

"You put it in the past. You try to focus on this year and try to become a better player in the offseason," Hicks said as the Twins opened full-squad workouts over the weekend.

Is he sick of answering the question everybody is asking him, including me: What in the world happened?

"Yeah, it comes to a point now that I'm already looking so far forward and looking toward this upcoming season that it feels like back-tracking is kind of irrelevant to me right now," Hicks said.

Hicks' struggles led to an odd phenomenon. After being put on a pedestal as the "Future of the Twins" a year ago, Hicks is barely being mentioned this year. Everybody has shifted their focus to the next group of phenoms like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer.

It's almost as if Hicks is yesterday's news at age 24.

Twins general manager Terry Ryan, before he left the club to battle cancer, told me fans shouldn't give up so quickly on Hicks. Ryan pointed out former outfielders like Hunter and Jacques Jones who bounced between the majors and minors in their early years before becoming very good big-leaguers.

Having Buxton in camp this spring makes for a very interesting dynamic. Buxton is a center fielder like Hicks, but is only 20 and hasn't played above A ball. He will not make the Twins when it is time to head north. But, Buxton has been named the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball by some publications It is so tantalizing to think of the possibilities ...

Hicks knows he will be competing for a job.

"There is always going to be somebody coming up. That's what the beauty of this game is with the draft," Hicks said. "There are always guys hungry just like you were when you were younger. They're trying to get to the big leagues, too."

To make the club, Hicks will have to hit and show that he can hit consistently. As good as he looked in spring training 2013, he looked as bad once the regular season started. He looked at too many first-pitch fastballs and swung at too many two-strike breaking balls out of the strike zone. It was the proverbial vicious cycle.

Hicks' first order is to swing at more first-pitch strikes.

"I need to stay more agressive. Stay aggressive from the first pitch to the last," he said when asked about looking at too many first-pitch strikes. "I think that was something that I did, no doubt. How do you fix it? You switch it up. You start being more aggressive."

Hicks sounds more seasoned than he did a year ago. He said he feels that way, too.

"It's that fact I've got experience this year. I was up there for awhile. I got to gauge the competiton. I got to learn the ways of how they like to approach guys. Now that I know that going into my second year I will be prepared," he said. "You have to be ready to compete every day. It was a learning process for me. It wasn't so much losing confidence becauses I still believe in myself that I can be a major-league player. I just have to go out there and play hard."

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