Mackey: The Twins are making some bizarre roster decisions this year
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Considering Hicks has - quite literally - never faced right-handed pitching as a right-handed batter (not counting knuckleballers), there will be an adjustment period when it comes to tracking breaking balls that dart off the outside corner, as Hicks found out in his first at-bat on Sunday.
That adjustment period probably shouldn't come against pitchers like Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka - both of whom will face the Twins this week, so it only makes sense Hicks should go back to the minor leagues to hone his right-handed swing against right-handed pitchers who aren't Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka.
Gardenhire said in an ideal world, Aaron Hicks would go to Triple-A to work on hitting right-handed vs righties. But Hicks only CF on roster— Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) May 26, 2014
Well, on the surface this looks like ditching the left-handed swing could be a wise move considering the .200-point gap between Hicks' right- and left-handed OPS in the major leagues. To make it worse, about 75% of his plate appearances have come from the left side, because most pitchers in baseball are right-handed.
But do I have this right?
The Twins and Hicks have decided to ditch a left-handed swing that produced a .828 OPS at Double-A just two years ago - a swing the 24-year-old has been working on since childhood -- without ever really testing it against Triple-A competition. Meanwhile, the Twins have acknowledged they'd prefer to send Hicks to Triple-A, but they can't because there are no other centerfield options on the 40-man roster, which - to be clear - is the Twins' fault to begin with.
The process here seems very flawed.
The Twins are going to point toward bad luck as the reason why Hicks is stranded in the deep end of the pool. After all, who could have predicted Sam Fuld would miss this much time with a concussion?
In reality, bad planning led to this situation. Having only one backup centerfielder on the entire 40-man roster was a major gamble when the incumbent starter is in over his head.
Twins assistant GM Rob Antony said recently, "Everyone can look back in hindsight and say you should have held onto [Alex] Presley. We could have. We ran Presley through [waivers], we ran [Chris] Parmelee through, we ran [Scott] Diamond through; Presley got claimed. I don't want to say that we thought, 'We've got Hicks, we don't need anyone else,' because we tried [Darin] Mastroianni as an option.
"Any time you put somebody out on waivers you take a chance. We rolled the dice, Presley got claimed, Mastro got claimed, [Brooks] Raley and [Kenny] Wilson, we claimed those guys on waivers and when we needed a spot they were at the bottom of our 40[-man roster]. We needed a spot and we ran them through and they got claimed ... When you're turning over and you lose some guys at the bottom of your 40-man roster, sometimes it opens up a spot, maybe somebody else comes along that you like just as much, if not better."
But here's the thing: When the starting centerfielder has never solidified himself above Double-A, should additional centerfielders be exposed to waivers to make room for guys like Jason Bartlett and Matt Guerrier?
Mastroianni and Presley would have sufficed, even if they're bad, because Hicks has been bad too. Of those three, Hicks is the only one considered a top prospect. His development should take precedence.
Losing Mastroianni and Presley to waiver claims by the Blue Jays and Astros was predictable because centerfielders, catchers, shortstops and starting pitchers are premium positions. You don't just sneak major league-caliber talent through waivers at those positions. Teams are always on the lookout.
Sure, Presley, 28, is hitting only .218/.246/.323 for the Astros, but wouldn't it make more sense to send him out as the sacrificial lamb instead of 24-year-old Hicks?
Sure, Mastroianni has a career .288 on-base percentage in the major leagues, but at least he has conquered Triple-A to some extent -- .287/.372/.391. Couldn't he have held down centerfield for a few minutes while Hicks developed?
These moves didn't make sense at the time, and they make even less sense now that the Twins have acknowledged the ideal scenario would be Hicks honing his right-handed swing in the minors.
Of course, it's possible Hicks bails everybody out by catching fire right-handed.
Here are some more bizarre personnel decisions the Twins have made (in the opinion of these amateur eyes):
• Two beneficiaries of the Twins' roster maneuvering have been 34-year-old Bartlett and 35-year-old Guerrier. Bartlett hasn't been a productive big leaguer since 2011, yet the Twins exposed younger players to waivers to clear room. Then, Bartlett discovered his gas tank was empty in April before the Twins did. Guerrier was a very good set-up man in 2009 and 2010, but he is a very replaceable commodity in 2014.
• One major side effect to the Twins lacking backup centerfield options is the number of infielders who have been forced to play in the outfield so far this season. Four, to be exact, including Danny Santana, who is considered to have a real shot at taking over as the franchise's shortstop of the future. So it's only natural he should be focusing on the outfield...
• Jason Kubel has the fourth-most plate appearances on the team, which is bad for three reasons: His power appears to have disappeared (six home runs in his last 470 plate appearances), he doesn't fare well against left-handed pitching, and he's one of the worst-ranging defensive outfielders in baseball.
• Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham didn't play the final two games in San Francisco over the weekend because the Twins didn't want to fly them cross country from the east coast. Instead, aversion to jetlag forced the Twins to essentially wave the white flag offensively against one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.