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Yankees fans owe Aaron Hicks an apology

NEW YORK – Going into spring training, the buzz around Aaron Hicks potentially starting in right field to begin the season got Yankees’ fans all riled up. “How could Aaron Judge not start in right field,” and “Does Aaron Hicks even deserve to be in the majors,” were questions that I saw posed on social media.

When the New York Yankees traded for outfielder Aaron Hicks from the Minnesota Twins, management viewed it as a low-risk/high-reward deal. The Yankees shipped away back-up catcher John Ryan Murphy in the one for one trade.

“This is an independent, straight up, good old-fashioned baseball trade — a lot of talent for a lot of talent,” Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman said. “I think Minnesota got a good player, and I certainly hope we got a good player. It provides us flexibility as we move forward to do some things, but that’s not why I did the trade.”

One thing that stood out to Cashman was Hicks’ defensive prowess, and he showcased his skill early on by recording the hardest thrown ball from the outfield in the statcast era.

Following the trade, however, Hicks disappointed many Yankees’ fans. The switch-hitter batted .185 up until August 1st and was struggling to produce at all for the Bronx Bombers. But the month of August was where Hicks found his most success. He hit .280 with four home runs and nine runs batted in.

This was the hitter that the Yankees were hoping for all of last season, and he carried his success from August over to Spring Training, making manager Joe Girardi’s decision on starting right fielder a difficult one. Hicks competed with the number four prospect in the Yankees’ organization, Aaron Judge, who currently is in the running for the triple-crown, an award that has not been captured since 2012.

“[Hicks has] played really well,” Girardi said. “Offensively he’s swung the bat well. He’s hit for power. He’s had some bunt base hits, stolen bases. Defensively, he’s played well. He’s had a good spring. Both guys have had a good spring. These guys are taking it down to the wire.”

But both players carried baggage. Hicks hit .087 in the month of April last season and Judge struck out in half of his at-bats as a pro. The decision came down to who Girardi had the most confidence in as an all-around player, which was Judge, but Hicks fought to make his presence felt on the roster.

Hicks batted nearly .300 in the months of April and May while not receiving consistent playing time, but capitalized on his opportunity when starting center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury went down with a concussion.

Hicks’ slash line sits at .314/.423/.571 on the season and he has already surpassed his home run and RBI total from last year. The Yankees willingness to stick with Hicks has proved to be beneficial, and he certainly looks poised to stay in the starting lineup with the way he is hitting the ball.

Although many were not keen to the idea of Hicks getting the starting nod, Girardi may just continue to go with the super-utility outfielder upon Ellsbury’s return. Hicks is an above-average outfielder with a cannon for an arm. If the 27-year-old can maintain consistency at the plate, look for him to take the starting role over from an injury-prone Ellsbury.

If you want to connect with Dean Bibens, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DeanBibens.