Mackey: Hicks remains in CF mostly because Twins have nobody else
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Aaron Hicks remains the Minnesota Twins' starting center fielder in large part because there are, quite literally, no other options to take his place.
It is harsh, but true.
Despite showing more of a pulse at the plate in recent weeks, Hicks entered Friday still hitting just .159/.245/.283 on the season -- the fifth lowest OPS in the majors among qualified hitters.
But due to the current roster climate, Hicks is winning the battle of attrition.
In Triple-A, center fielder Clete Thomas was tearing the cover off the ball, but he's been sidelined since May 7 with a leg injury. Brandon Boggs was released three weeks ago, and Joe Benson is struggling mightily.
The Twins may soon reach a point -- if that point hasn't arrived already -- where they must decide whether Hicks' development will be damaged as he continues to take lumps against major league pitching.
"In reality, even though the Twins are saying that they want (Hicks) to keep working with (hitting coach Tom) Brunansky and get him on track, if we would have some different situations and scenarios as far as our center field protection, I'd have to say that there was a good chance at some point Aaron would have been back down there to get some at-bats at Triple-A to try to get on track," Twins minor league instructor Paul Molitor said in an interview with 1500 ESPN's Judd & Dubay Show earlier this week. "But we just haven't had anybody to fill that defensive position to allow that to happen ...
"He's done a little bit better as of late. My philosophy as a young player would be don't try to get to .200, don't try to get to .230, don't try to get to .250. What am I going to hit from this day forward to the end of the season? And then tomorrow, what am I going to hit this day until the end of the season? You can't try to catch up and get your average up to where you would want it if you were to have started the season a little bit better."
The man who seems to be letting his golden opportunity pass by is former Baseball America top-100 prospect Joe Benson, who, as Molitor put it, "has not figured it out."
"And I was on Joe's bandwagon a couple years ago," Molitor added. "I was just really impressed about the things he could do, and he hasn't been able to translate some of the natural abilities he has into performance. And some of the ups and downs and injuries, it's just been a tough battle for him."
Benson, coming off significant knee surgery last fall, is hitting just .192/.256/.285 with one home run in 42 games this season -- this just three years after he was named Twins' minor league hitter of the year in 2010.
"Joe, I would say, has been a disappointment," Molitor said. "I know he's been working hard. ... It's not that he's not trying. It's almost like he's trying too hard. But he's having a tough time getting it going down there."
To find a possible replacement for Hicks, the Twins have to look at 29-year-old journeyman Antoan Richardson, who was recently promoted to Rochester from New Britain. Richardson is hitting .336/.457/.421 with 16 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A.
Richardson does have a track record of getting on base, but he has virtually zero power and has played only a handful of games in the major leagues.
But at some point, the Twins might not have a choice but to give him a look.