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Updated: May 26th, 2014 3:38pm
Twins hope ditching switch hitting will help Hicks reach potential

Twins hope ditching switch hitting will help Hicks reach potential

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by Derek Wetmore
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS - Aaron Hicks says he plans to ditch switch hitting to focus exclusively on his right-handed swing.

"I always had pride in being a switch hitter," Hicks said Monday, explaining his decision. "I just feel better now, being a right-handed hitter and having to only work on one side."

Hicks said he approached the Twins organization about dropping his left-handed swing, which has been out of sorts since the beginning of last season, when he left spring training as the Twins starting center fielder.

This might be overdue, but at Double-A New Britain in 2012, Hicks put together an encouraging season from both sides of the plate as a 22-year-old. He batted .287/.394/.434 as a left-handed hitter and .283/.359/.522 from the right side. 

Still, he was overmatched as a left-handed hitter last season and that looked to be the case this year as well. 

"Switch hitting is valuable but not if you're getting the majority of your at-bats left-handed and that's the side that you're struggling with," Twins assistant GM Rob Antony said. "So I think it might be a good thing for him."

Hicks called his agent Sunday night and told him his plan to ditch the left-handed swing. His agent told him to sleep on the decision, according to Antony. Then Hicks texted his agent overnight saying he'd thought about it and was set on that decision. His agent then called Antony on Monday morning to let him know. Around the same time, Hicks called over manager Ron Gardenhire to his locker stall to tell him.

There may be a conversation to be had about Hicks not including the Twins on this decision, but they say the organization is supportive of the choice.

"My belief is that if a guy has lost confidence in swinging left-handed and wants to go exclusively right-handed, it makes sense to go that route," Antony said. "It's pretty hard to say, 'no, just keep whacking away.' Then every time he has a tough at-bat he's thinking, 'geez, I told them I don't want to do this.'"

Hicks didn't offer specifics about why the move might be beneficial, other than saying he feels much more confident from the right side of the plate.

"Now it's only one side I have to worry about and that's the side I feel confident on," Hicks said.

Hicks' numbers haven't been pretty from the left side, and his approach at the plate from that said should have been cause for concern.

He's hitting .187/.328/.252 this season overall, which is dreadful. His batting line from the left side, .149/.284/.209 in 82 plate appearances, is even worse. Sam Fuld is recovering from a concussion. If the Twins had a viable alternative in center field, Hicks would be in the minor leagues.

Hicks in his Major League career:

Handed

PA

Avg.

OBP

SLG

HR

RBI

Walk rate

Strikeout rate

wOBA

wRC+

Left:

326

.178

.259

.286

5

21

9.2%

26.7%

.248

52

Right:

114

.227

.333

.402

4

14

14%

26.3%

.328

107

This doesn't include five plate appearances from the right side against right-handed knuckleballers. (His last at-bat from the right side against a traditional right-handed pitcher came when he was 12, he said. He got a hit.)

Below is the batted ball profile for Hicks as a lefty this season. It's mostly groundballs to the infielders on the right side and fly balls that hang in the air long enough that outfielders can camp under them.  


Source: FanGraphs

One of the primary differences between switch hitting and batting right-handed will be sliders from right-handed pitchers. Unless there's a pitcher with a great screwball or a particularly nasty running two-seamer, Hicks never has faced a pitch that rapidly breaks away from him as a right-handed hitter.

He struck out on a slider in his first plate appearance Monday. He'll have to conquer that, and many other similar challenges on the fly in the Majors. (Hicks also collected a pair of singles Monday, both against fastballs.)

The Twins, however, still see the high upside they envisioned when they made him the 14th overall pick in the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Hicks has great speed and a strong arm.

"Absolutely," Antony said when asked if he still sees a high ceiling for Hicks. "I'd be extremely surprised and disappointed if he's not a solid, everyday Major League outfielder."

"That's not going to be the case overnight, but I think there are a lot of guys who have gone through the process" of struggling initially and then figuring things out later, Antony said. "He's still young, he's got a lot of athletic ability. He's shown all the tools now it's just a matter of if-when-he's going to put it together."

Derek Wetmore is the senior editor for 1500ESPN.com. His previous stops include MLB.com and the Minnesota Daily.
Email Derek | @DerekWetmore
In this story: Ron Gardenhire
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