Hicks ate the red pill and was subsequently drafted in the first round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft by the Minnesota Twins. Baseball America named him a Rookie All-Star and placed him as high as 19th in the top 100 prospect list. His first four years of professional baseball were spent in Rookie and Single-A. During those years, the walk rate was around 14% while the strikeout rate was around 20%. He was a .260-ish hitter and showed the ability to hit around six home runs and steal 15 bases. When he moved up to Double-A, Hicks hit .286, clubbed 13 home runs, and stole 32 bases. Was Hicks ready for the Jump Program?
In 2013, Hicks was called up to the major leagues and played 43 games. .192 average with a 7% walk rate and 27% strikeout rate. He did hit eight home runs and steal nine bases, though. Hey, Neo failed on his first jump too! The following year, after spending some time in the minors, Hicks was called up to the Big Show again. In 24 games, he hit .215, had a 16% walk rate, 25% strikeout rate, and hit one home run with four stolen bases. Not good, but did you notice the increase in walk rate? Is that what they call foreshadowing? The following season, Hicks tore up Triple-A and had very good success at the major league level. He batted .256, decreased the strikeout rate to 17%, and clubbed 11 home runs while stealing 13 bases. The walk rate did come down to 9%. Unfortunately, the Twins had Byron Buxton as their center fielder of the future, so they traded Hicks to the New York Yankees for John Ryan Murphy.
Hicks’ first year in New York did not go as planned. Neither did Neo’s first encounter with Agent Smith. I’m not sure which one had the worse experience. Hicks batted .217 with eight home runs and three stolen bases in 123 games for the Yankees. The walk (8%) and strikeout (19%) rates were fine. Consistent playing time was not, though. As the fourth outfielder, it was difficult for Hicks to elevate over Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran. The 2017 season began in the same fashion, as Aaron Judge won the right field duties over Hicks in Spring Training.
All was not the same, though. Even though Hicks was not playing everyday, when he did pinch hit or was inserted into the lineup to give one of the outfielders a day off, he was producing. It wasn’t just the fact that he was producing. It was HOW he was producing. 15% strikeout rate and 19% walk rate!! He was chasing only 15% of pitches out of the strike zone! In general, he was just swinging at fewer pitches. As Neo was able to view the Matrix as programming code, is the zone that Hicks is currently in a permanent one or something akin to the Super Star in Super Mario Bros?
I’m a believer. Hicks has always been fairly disciplined in his approach, as the rate for swinging at pitches outside the strike zone has never exceeded 23%. The swinging strike rate of 8% is also not an anomaly, as it’s only exceeded 8% once in five major league seasons. The .340 BABIP and .338 average will come down. So will the .325 ISO. Hicks has a 30% soft contact rate, a 50% contact rate, and an insane 30% HR/FB rate. The question is how much?
The projection systems have him down for a .250 average rest of season. I’m much more bullish. .275-.280-ish with the possiblity for higher. My reasons? For starters, he’s always had above-average contact rates and a solid approach. He also has excellent speed, which should allow for a high-BABIP floor. Secondly, he’s 27 years old and entering the prime of his career. He’s mature both physically and mentally. Lastly, he’s on a one-year, $574,000 contract. I know the contract narrative is debatable, but I’m on the side of it having merit. We all want to get paid. Some to make it rain. Others to get cheese on their Whopper. Whatever it is, if you know your contract is up, gotta be a little more focused, try a little harder, and play through pain, right?
Now, let’s discuss the elephant in the room, which is consistent playing time. Gardner, Ellsbury, and Judge are still ahead of Hicks on the depth chart. There are a few scenarios that I’ve seen thrown around. The first is that Hicks displaces one of the three mentioned above. I don’t subscribe to that theory. The only way I see that happening is if an injury occurs, which is why Hicks started seeing consistent at-bats in the first place. The second is that Hicks plays everyday by giving one of the starters a rest. This is definitely a more feasible solution. The third route is playing Matt Holliday at first base and putting all four outfielders into the lineup, with one at DH. This makes a ton of sense as well. Hicks is a good defender and has the strongest arm in the outfield. Ellsbury has an elbow issue, so….There’s also the possibility that Judge starts to struggle. The adjustments are going to come. It’s just a matter of when, not if. If Judge struggles, that could mean more time for Hicks. There are many avenues to playing time, so I’m not too concerned regarding it. Bottom line is this: if Hicks continues to hit then he’s going to play.
To answer the question Has Hicks Figured Out the Matrix? There has only been one in my lifetime to reach that level. His name was Barry Bonds. Take out the fact that he was a Giant and his head mushroomed four hat sizes over his career, the dude was The One. His swinging strike rate was often in the 4% range and swing rate on pitches outside the strike zone was often 11%!!! All while maintaining contact rates in the high-80s to 90% range and clubbing 70 home runs. He literally got one pitch to hit and he would have the patience to wait for it and rarely missed. Insane. Anyways, Hicks is in the zone right now. There’s double-digit home run and stolen base upside. He won’t reach the Bonds-zone, but few will.