Opinion

For the Yankees, all it took was a little patience with Aaron Hicks

When Yankees general manager Brian Cashman compared a dormant Aaron Hicks to a lively Jackie Bradley Jr. last August, hilarity–mixed with a hint of sarcasm–quickly ensued. When the team annouced that Hicks was a candidate for the starting right field job this spring, the mere thought was alarming, and perceived as foolish and injudicious.

Whoops. Time to ask for a mulligan.

No longer will the relentless bashing of Hicks be vindicated, as the 27-year-old has undoubtedly become a go-to fixture in the lineup this season. Despite assuming the role as fourth outfielder, Hicks’ offensive production has created a high-end problem, one that Cashman and the staff must’ve been anticipating all along.

On Saturday night at Wrigly Field, Hicks was a key contributer in an 11-6 pounding of the defending champion Cubs, finishing 4-for-5 and a triple shy of the cycle with three RBI. His slashine now sits at a laughable .355/.468/.710, numbers that were beyond unfathomable for the switch hitter last year. 

So, what has changed with Hicks? Perhaps nothing–he just wasn’t given a chance from the start.

“I feel good,” Hicks told the New York Post following the game. “I feel like my plate appearances have been better. I have more of an idea of what I want to do in every at-bat and it’s working out so far. I’m just going to be ready for the opportunities that I get. Of course, the better you play, the more opportunities you’re going to get.”

Hicks hasn’t taken a step backwards either. In his last four games, he’s hit 9-for-17, and his home run total is already up to six–a number he didn’t reach until Aug. 13 of last year. His splits from the left (.361/.511/.778) and right (.346/.400/.692) side of the plate are exceptional, and his versatility in the field–along with his cannon of an arm–makes him one valuable asset. 

Of course, his playing time of late has been influenced by Jacoby Ellsbury’s apparent elbow injury. The 33-year-old hasn’t played since May 1, but he is expected to return to action on Sunday night for the series finale in Chicago. Granted, Ellsbury has also performed well, but is it worth taking one of the hottest bats out of the lineup immediately? 

According to manager Joe Girardi, not necessarily. In fact, he’s wanted Hicks in the lineup on a regular basis.

“We’ve talked about rotating these guys and finding time for Hicksie,” Girardi told NJ.com. “He has played well all year. I said it over and over, I give him a lot of credit because he wasn’t happy when we left spring training. But he’s getting plenty of at-bats.”

Girardi also believes Hicks has matured professionally, which for a guy who’s served as a platoon man for five seasons, takes time.

“Understanding how to — if I don’t play everyday, what do I have to do to be ready,” Girardi told the Post. “Again, it’s a guy that when he wasn’t playing everyday in the big leagues, he was probably in the minor leagues. He wasn’t sitting on the bench. He was used to playing every day.”

But who deserves the credit? How about the aforementioned general manager, who dealt backup catcher John Ryan Murphy to the Twins for Hicks back in the winter of 2015. Right now, Murphy isn’t even playing in the show–he’s hitting .270 with Triple-A Rochester.

And how about that ridiculous quote? If Cashman’s former “hot take” on Hicks isn’t jogging the memory, here it is:

“(Hicks) hasn’t played out to the level that I expected at all. That doesn’t mean that he can’t and won’t break out. He’s in a situation where I would caution everybody to look at what Jackie Bradley Jr. did two years ago and then last year … as an everyday guy struggling to make it through and get his feet on the ground and get his sea legs under him. He’s an extremely talented player, and the Red Sox deserve a lot of credit for being patient with him.”

While it’s early May, and the season is always filled with some twists and turns, the key to Hicks was purely patience. In a city like New York–censorious and fervid–sometimes a simple virtue comes in handy, and for the Yankees, the daily outfield arrangement isn’t that obvious after all.

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.

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