Updated: February 27th, 2013 8:59pm
Spring Observations: Is Aaron Hicks out to early lead in centerfield?

Spring Observations: Is Aaron Hicks out to early lead in centerfield?

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If the regular season started today, the Twins would probably have a pretty difficult time not starting Aaron Hicks in centerfield.

Watching him play all week, he's one of the smoothest players on the field. He runs effortlessly, doesn't waste a lot of movement at the plate and drives the ball over outfielders' heads enough to make defenses honest.

Hicks doubled, singled and drove in two against the Phillies on Wednesday, raising his spring batting average to .400 during this first week of games.

Normally spring training numbers mean very little, but for a guy trying to make the jump straight from Double-A, Hicks likely needs to hit for a high batting average and show the ability to drive the ball a little bit if he wants to take the centerfield job from Darin Mastroianni.

One advantage Hicks does have is his ability to draw walks. Even if he isn't ready to hit for a high batting average, Hicks could hit .250 and draw enough walks and steal enough bases to make him a viable offensive option.

If Hicks makes the team, he'd almost certainly hit leadoff.

The other 12%

Kevin Correia's second spring start for the Twins did not go well on Wednesday. The right-hander allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits and two walks while striking out two in 2 1/3 innings. He was scheduled to fly home Wednesday night to witness the birth of his third child later this week.

I have been critical of the Twins' decision to sign Correia to a two-year, $10 million contract for several reasons, namely the fact that he rarely strikes anybody out and owns a 4.54 career ERA in the National League.

Nor does he really go deep into games. Only twice in 10 years has Correia thrown more than 154 innings in a season. Last year he threw 100 pitches or more in a game only twice, and only five times did he pitch beyond six innings.

And the more I hear about and watch some of these highly-touted younger pitchers -- Trevor May, Alex Meyer, Kyle Gibson and even Vance Worley, Scott Diamond and Liam Hendriks -- it's hard to see where Correia, 32, fits in 2014. Will he wind up being a $5 million long reliever?

The Twins insist Correia is better, and more valuable, than his numbers indicate. Scouts like the downward movement on his pitches, which has, to Correia's credit, allowed him to induce a lot of groundballs over the past few seasons. Correia also has allowed only 13 stolen bases combined over the past two seasons, despite putting more than 400 men on base over that stretch -- a positive for a Twins staff that ranks among MLB's worst at holding runners.

Ultimately, Correia will be at the mercy of his defense, as hitters make contact against him on 88% of their swings.

Faith in Gibson

The Twins announced Wednesday that right-hander Kyle Gibson will start Saturday's game against the Boston Red Sox.

Gibson getting a start is certainly not surprising, as he is firmly in the mix for one of the five rotation spots. But Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson are clearly showing faith with the move.

The plan is for Gibson to be limited to between 130 and 140 innings this season, and the Twins have decided he will not pitch out of the bullpen in order to keep the innings down. When he runs out, he runs out, much like Stephen Strasburg in Washington last year.

Gibson was pumping his fastball in the mid-90's on Sunday according to multiple radar guns, which is obviously a fantastic sign.

Swarzak catching up

Anthony Swarzak has been somewhat of an outside observer through the first two weeks of spring training as he continues to nurse a rib injury suffered last month in a "horseplay" incident.

The plan is for Swarzak to start throwing on Thursday. If all goes well, he'll start doing mound work within the next couple weeks.

Glen Perkins, Jared Burton and Brian Duensing are likely the only three locks for what will probably be a seven-man bullpen. Alex Burnett figures to have pretty good job security as well. That leaves three spots to battle for, one of which will likely be a third left-hander.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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