When the Minnesota Twins left spring training this year, there was zero doubt that Aaron Hicks was going to be the starting centerfielder to open the season with the big-league club. Hicks had a tremendous spring training and earned the starting job outright, prompting writers like me to start the “Hicks for Rookie of the Year” campaign a little prematurely. As we all know, Hicks got off to a slow start and many fans were clamoring for Hicks to be sent back to the minors so he could regain his form. However, the Twins have remained patient with Hicks and he has rewarded their patience with better hitting performances over his past few weeks.
Unfortunately for Hicks and the Twins, Hicks was injured on Friday night when he mildly hyperextended his right elbow during an at-bat. This prompted the Twins to place Wilkin Ramirez into the starting lineup to fill in for the injured Hicks until he was ready to return to the lineup. Since Ramirez has replaced Hicks in the lineup, he has done an admirable job filling in and is making a claim to see his playing time increased even when Hicks comes back.
During his two starts in centerfield, Ramirez has only one hit in eight at-bats, but he has hit the ball hard several times even though they resulted in outs. What Ramirez has done, however, is demonstrate he can hold down the job defensively in centerfield as well as swing the bat well. One of the reasons that Hicks has remained in center so long is because he was the Twins only legitimate centerfielder on the roster with the injury to Darin Mastroianni. Few would argue that Ramirez is a better defensive centerfielder or that he could cover as much ground as Hicks can; but, at the same time, few would argue that Hicks is a better hitter than Ramirez is at this point in the season. Under that notion, would the Twins ever consider sacrificing a little on the defensive side in order to start Ramirez more often and receive more offensively?
I don’t think the Twins would consider giving up on Hicks in the starting lineup at this point of the season simply because they have so much invested in the youngster and he is still gaining valuable experience and adjusting to playing the game at the big-league level. Hicks also has shown signs of improvement at the plate over the last few weeks that may indicate that he is starting to figure a few things out at the plate. It is for those reasons that I believe the Twins will not make a change in centerfield and swap Hicks’ playing time for Ramirez.
While I don’t believe anything will change, I do believe these couple of games has demonstrated that Ramirez could play a valuable role on this team and could hold his own in centerfield if he ever was called upon to do so for an extended period of time. For now, the Twins will wait and see how the injury to Hicks plays itself out and in the meantime, Ramirez will continue to hold down the position until he gets back.