TAMPA, Fla. — Included in the whirlwind that accompanied Aaron Hicks’ mid-November trade to the Yankees was a surprising message.
“Alex [Rodriguez] sent me a text saying, ‘Hey, welcome to the team,’ ” Hicks said Wednesday afternoon following a morning workout at the Yankees’ minor-league complex. “I was pretty excited about that one. I’ve never met him before, never talked to him. It was pretty cool. Just shows his character.”
Hicks, who arrived in Tampa two weeks ago, represented general manager Brian Cashman’s first major move of the offseason. In need of outfield depth, and looking to give himself more roster flexibility in case he was blown away by an offer for leftfielder Brett Gardner, Cashman sent backup catcher John Ryan Murphy to the Twins for Hicks, a former first-round draft pick who many believe has underachieved.
Hicks, the 14th overall selection in 2008, debuted in 2013 and is a career .225 hitter with a .306 on-base percentage. Cashman said he “figured a lot of things out in the last year” and is poised to blossom. And, besides, he’s just 26.
Hicks agreed. “I took strides,” he said. “Having a better game plan at the plate, understanding the game more and just becoming a better overall player. I took huge steps last year in being able to hit better against righties and also hitting better against lefties and being able to constantly compete every day and have that drive to just become a better player.”
An opposing team’s talent evaluator called the 6-2, 210-pound Hicks “a talented defender” with a strong arm. “He’s a centerfielder but can easily spell in right,” the evaluator said. “He can go get the ball . . . he showed signs of turning the corner last year.” Hicks came up as centerfielder but can play all three outfield positions, and he would start in left if Gardner were moved.
The switch-hitting Hicks had an unimpressive .256/.323/.398 slash line in 97 games last season, hitting 11 homers. Although he struggled at times against righties (.235/.302/.359), he excelled against lefthanders, posting a .307/.375/.495 slash line, with six homers.
At the time of the trade, Cashman said he saw Hicks, if needed, as an everyday player. “At the very least he provides us what we were getting from Chris Young the last two years,” Cashman said. “At the very most he provides us a lot of flexibility, depending how the winter transpires.”
As it stands now, Hicks is a reserve, behind Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Carlos Beltran on the depth chart. All, however, have experienced their share of injuries in recent years, so Hicks figures to get his chances.
“I’m just going to go out there and play,” said Hicks, who will wear 31, the number worn by Dave Winfield, who happened to be his father’s favorite player when he played for the Yankees. “Try to help this team win and compete. That’s all I can do, and whenever I’m called upon, go out there and play.”
Bats/Throws: Switch hitter/right
Drafted: Minnesota, 1st round (14th overall), 2008
MLB seasons: Minnesota, 2013-15