Hicks to model sophomore turnaround after Dozier's
After following strong spring with subpar regular season, roster spot is main priority
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Aaron Hicks doesn't have to look too far to find a teammate who used a demotion as a rookie as motivation for a strong sophomore campaign.
Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, whose locker at Hammond Stadium is only a few stalls over from Hicks', had a similar experience in 2012, as he struggled in his first Major League season and was optioned to Triple-A Rochester in mid-August of that year without returning as a September callup.
But Dozier rebounded last year, establishing himself as an everyday player for the Twins while breaking the club record for homers by a second baseman with 18.
Hicks is hoping for a similar turnaround following a debut season in which he hit .192/.259/.338 with eight homers, 27 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 81 games before being sent to Rochester for good in early August.
"That's what we hope Hicks does, same thing [as Dozier]," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Take it and run with it. Believe me, you're talking young players that aren't out of second chances. They'll get plenty of chances here; now it's up to them. We like the heck out of the kid, and it's the same thing with Dozier. That makes it pretty easy to give them a chance, give them a look again."
Hicks, 24, still has youth on his side, as he is only a year removed from being regarded as a top prospect, and he believes he will move past last year's struggles.
"I definitely didn't like that, but I'm using it as motivation," Hicks said of his August demotion. "I was talking about that with [Scott] Diamond at the end of last year. He just told me, 'Go to camp ready to go and be ready to win the job again.' So I just want to be able to help the team win."
Hicks is competing for the starting spot in center field this camp with Alex Presley, who was acquired in the trade that sent Justin Morneau to Pittsburgh last August.
Presley is out of Minor League options, which gives him the slight edge to be the club's Opening Day starter in center field, but Hicks is hoping to make an impression in spring as he did last year. In three games, Hicks was 2-for-9 with an RBI and a run scored, while Presley was 1-for-9 in three games.
But it will be tough for Hicks to match his performance from last spring, when he hit .370/.407/.644 with four homers, six doubles and 18 RBIs in 22 Grapefruit League games to claim the job in center field despite never having played above Double-A New Britain.
"It'd be nice to have a spring like that," Hicks said with a smile. "I want to make the team, but for me, I just have to get ready for the start of the season. I did things a little different, starting things a little later [this offseason]. Last year, I came in more mid-season form and started off hot."
Hicks adjusted his workout routine this offseason, as he held off from baseball activities until late November. He entered camp noticeably stronger than he was last year, and he spent time this offseason working with Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who also lives in Southern California during the offseason.
Gardenhire said he had already noticed a difference with Hicks, who as a rookie showed flashes of what he could become as a big league regular but could not put it all together.
"I just want to see him back to enjoying the game, because he was having a hard time last year when he left us and he wasn't having a lot of fun playing," Gardenhire said. "More than anything else, get back out there, have some fun, relax and take it day by day. He's a great athlete. He's looked stronger to me. You know what, it was a great learning experience for him. Now we move past that, we learn from that and we go right to this year and let him have some fun, get out there and play baseball. We'll see where we're at, at the end of Spring Training."
If it were up to Hicks, he would be heading north with the Twins at the end of Spring Training, but he knows the decision will ultimately be out of his control. So he is just trying to make a good impression this spring, and prove he is better than his rookie campaign would indicate.
"I'm sure if I just play my game and do what I do best, I'll be fine," Hicks said. "But I have to leave it in their hands. Of course, I want the job and I want to be in the big leagues. But it's not going to be important if I'm not ready from the get-go and helping the team win. I feel better this year, though, because I know what I'm getting myself into."