TAMPA, Fla. — Spring training could not be any more different for Aaron Hicks this year.
The switch-hitting outfielder entered spring training in 2017 as an intriguing but unknown quantity, hoping to win the starting job as the Yankees’ rightfielder.
Hicks was, you may have heard, edged out in the competition by someone named Aaron Judge, who ended up having a fairly memorable rookie season.
Hicks shrugged off the disappointment and had a career-best season, shortened as it was because of two separate oblique injuries.
A reserve to start 2017, he took advantage of whatever playing time he did receive while rotating between left, right and center. That continued when he replaced an injured Jacoby Ellsbury, who suffered a concussion, as the regular centerfielder in late May, a job he didn’t relinquish until he was sidelined from June 26-Aug. 9 with a right oblique strain that cost him 39 games.
Hicks again went on the DL in September with a left oblique strain. However, he played well enough in his 88 regular-season games — he also started all 13 of the Yankees’ postseason games — that general manager Brian Cashman all but anointed him the starting centerfielder shortly after the season.
“We ended  with the current setup of Judge in right, Hicks in center and Gardy [Brett Gardner] in left for a reason,” Cashman said during November’s GM meetings in Orlando. “They were the best that we had, and so I think we would anticipate going in that way again.”
Which, of course, is just fine with Hicks, 28.
“I want to be the starting centerfielder for the Yankees, of course,” Hicks said Friday after working out at the club’s minor-league complex. “I feel like that’s the position I can play every day and be successful and help this team win.”
That isn’t to say Hicks took it easy this offseason. He hired a new private trainer, Abdul Sillah, who has trained tennis stars Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens, among others. “I feel like he’s the best of the best,” Hicks said.
Last season, Hicks finally blossomed into the kind of player the Minnesota Twins imagined he might be when they took him 14th overall in the 2008 draft, putting together a .266/.372/.475 slash line. With athletic legs and a cannon right arm, he played solid, sometimes spectacular defense.
“It felt really good to me,” Hicks said. “I got my confidence up and I was able to help the team win, and ultimately that’s what your job is supposed to be.”
Hicks hit a career-best 15 homers and figures to be part of a lineup that will be hitting them all season, a lineup that added reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton.
“It’s going to be a dangerous team now,” Hicks said. “You have power from all parts of the lineup. Also, we’ve been to the postseason, so that makes us that much better and more experienced.”
Hicks, by far the best golfer in the Yankees’ clubhouse (he’s a 1-handicapper), golfed with Aaron Boone over the winter in Arizona, where they both have homes. Hicks laughed when asked how badly he beat his new manager.
“Let’s just say,” Hicks said, “we had fun.”