Each baseball player looks to make a forward progression in his game from one season to the next. For some, like Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks, the urgency is more pronounced than others.
The remarks on Hicks must to turn from, "He can elevate his game," to "Aaron Hicks has arrived!"
Hicks has the pedigree and tools to be an elite ballplayer. A former first-round pick, he possesses the athletic physique of today's ballplayer. Hicks has developed power in his stroke, and has always flaunted above-average speed. Finally, he plays superb defense with a cannon for an arm.
The issue with Hicks is the time he's been on the field. Early on, minimized playing time was attributed to the role the switch-hitter held with the Twins, and then, the Yankees as a fourth outfielder, one pegged as a stronger hitter from the right side.
Hicks managed to make an impression last spring, forcing himself into an outfield situation that became a rotation of sorts. As Hicks began receiving consistent reps, he rewarded the Yankees with stellar production.
Hicks was fantastic in April and May, hitting .298 with a .425 on-base percentage and a .545 slugging percentage in 154 plate appearances. He ripped six doubles and eight home runs in the two-month span with 24 RBIs. Hicks did slow down a bit in June, though, he still produced a solid .821 OPS.
Hicks' performance eventually vaulted him ahead of Jacoby Ellsbury on the depth chart. Unfortunately, he found himself on the disabled list twice - first with a strained right oblique costing him 39 games and then a left oblique strain shelved him for 21 games. When he returned, he was not quite the player the Yankees felt was blossoming.
Despite the late-season struggles and the injuries, Hicks was all but handed the center field job this spring with the Yankees half-heartedly claiming Ellsbury was in the mix. Hicks has not had much competition from Ellsbury, who has been nonexistent due to a strained oblique, and now a sickness as he is not seen an option to be on the Opening Day roster.
As such, Hicks can go out and prove he is ready to be a full-time starter, and maintain the spot through the entire season.
The Yankees will have to shift outfielders around with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton requiring some time in left field on occasion. Since Hicks is a switch hitter and the superior fielder than Brett Gardner, it might allow him to stick in the lineup more often provided he's doing his job with the bat.
Hicks is being afforded the chance he has longed for, and there is no one in his way. Ellsbury is a shell of the player he once was, and there isn't anyone in the minors pushing past Hicks this season if he's performing to his abilities.
Hicks has the potential to be a 20-homer, 20-steal player, and if last season's plate patience carries over, he could find some time at the top of the batting order for games in which Gardner is being rested. So long as Hicks can avoid long ruts at the plate and remain healthy, the breakout season everyone has been waiting for could be in store.
The Yankees have demonstrated that they are fully invested in Hicks, and it is time he prove he's worth it.