The 14th overall pick in the 2008 draft, Aaron Hicks was a Baseball America Top 100 prospect from 2009-11 (39, 19, 45) before dropping off the list in 2012. He is currently a member of Minnesota’s Double-A affiliate in New Britain, where he is hitting .246/.344/.396 with six homeruns and 15 stolen bases in 55 games.
I read in an old interview that you didn’t play baseball until you were thirteen. How did you first get involved in the game?
In the game of baseball? Usually it was just me and my brother playing in the backyard, messing around. I got involved when, kind of without asking my dad, I was going and playing some little pick-up games of baseball at this local park that I went to. And one day my dad was driving by, saw me playing, he watched me play for a while, and then when I got back home I got in trouble for saying that I was one place and I was doing something else.
I got involved doing it that way, and then right after that I begged my dad to play baseball and then started playing baseball when I was thirteen. And then after a few years of playing ball, I finally found out my dad also played baseball too. Once I found out that it was game over for golf and the love of the game came.
So did he just not want to push it on you? He didn’t want to take what he had done and push it onto you?
It was more that my dad played golf when he retired from baseball, so when I was little he used to take me to the golf course with him. When I was real small I used to just run around, play, knew everybody at the golf course, and one day my dad told me I just picked up a golf club, one of his, and just started hacking at the ball [laughs]. And then he was like, “Oh wow, in a few years I think I might have somebody to play with.” So after that he chopped down some clubs and I was going out to the golf course with him every day.
As you got older you took part in the RBI programs and the Urban Youth Academy. How did you end up getting involved with those?
First time it started I was playing in a varsity game, a varsity “B” game I should say, my freshman year of high school, and they saw me play. They were like, “Hey, we think we can help you out in your game, take you to that next level full of guys that played in the minor leagues, some played in the big leagues.” So from then on I’ve been going to the Academy, even now, just to get tips and sharpen up my game.
You say that they saw you play – do they have people that work there go out into surrounding areas and watch?
No, no, I was playing a game at the Urban Youth Academy, so they’re there while I was playing and saw me play and then asked me if I wanted to start coming and I started going.
You started late and played in high school. When did you start realizing that maybe you could have a professional career out of this?
I’d say probably my junior year of high school. Little bit of my sophomore year, when I started playing for the Area Codes down there in southern California. They sent an invite to my high school, my high school showed me, and I didn’t really know what it was, but they were saying that all top guys in high school went there and played, so of course I was interested at that point. I started playing there and enjoyed it.
And you guys won a national championship your junior year, right?
My junior year, yes.
Did any of the other guys that you played with end up getting drafted or playing professionally?
Yeah, one actually plays for the Portland Sea Dogs right now, the second baseman, Ryan Dent. He was my high school teammate. I’ve got another friend who plays for the Brewers, Elliott Glynn, and another guy plays for the Yankees right now, Zach Wilson. So I’d say four of us got out.
So you guys are going places.
Yeah. [laughs] We had a good team. It was a solid group of players. Some guys are still playing in college right now, trying to get out, but we had a solid team full of guys that are capable of playing in the minor leagues.
You got drafted really high, obviously. Did you ever consider going to college, or was it just too good to pass up?
My family wanted me to go to a local college, which of course would be USC. USC’s known for a lot.
It’s funny to think of it as a “local college”.
Yeah [laughs]. But I got a deal that I couldn’t pass up. I love the game so much. It wasn’t about the money so much. It was about the organization that gave me the opportunity. The Twins are a great organization. They’re known for developing their guys and getting them to the big leagues, and my agent told me that and I went with it. I trusted him and so far it’s been going pretty well.
When did you start switch-hitting?
When I started [playing baseball]. See the funny thing is, my dad, he didn’t want me to play baseball. So he made me hit left-handed, and I’d never hit left-handed before that. And I was struggling a lot. He was thinking probably a couple seasons and I’ll be done with baseball, but he didn’t know that I’m not gonna stop. I’m not gonna stop until I get it right. And that’s how I ended up becoming a switch-hitter.
How long did it take you to get comfortable from both sides?
I would say probably about my junior year of high school. Sophomore I would get there and then just go back to being whatever. Junior year is when it really, really clicked. We were winning ballgames, I was getting clutch hits, I was figuring myself out as a hitter in high school, what I’m capable of, what I’m not capable of. And at that time I wasn’t a power hitter, so I would just get on base, steal bases, do what I can to win ballgames. That’s really how I got better as a switch-hitter.
You say that your dad didn’t want you to play and that he made you hit left-handed. Do you think that having to push through that and having to not quit even though you had something stacked against you, do you think that’s good for you now?
Yeah, of course. I mean, I see some of the pitches these right-handed pitchers are throwing now and I’m glad I’m a switch-hitter, cause it’s all coming in to me. It’s a combination of that and my dad’s career was also ended on him hitting righty-righty. He got hit in the face by a 95 mile an hour fastball, his career was ended, and that was part of the reason why I’m a switch-hitter today, because it prevents that. I can see the ball better if it’s coming at me.
The same interview that I mentioned at the beginning said you don’t pay attention to the prospect rankings, but it said that your parents do. Do they keep you up-to-date on what’s going on?
My dad likes to see where I’m at. I think it’s more just, I don’t know, he likes to tell his friends at work where I’m at. My dad loves it. I’m not a big fan of it. I feel like there would be guys that would be pretty much like 90th, whatever, and then get to the big leagues. It’s not like a countdown of when you’re gonna get to the big leagues, so to me it doesn’t really matter. My dad thinks of it as like a pride thing. He loves to see how well I’m doing, where other people see where I’m at, but I could care less.
You had 18 outfield assists last season. What’s more fun for you – hitting a homerun or throwing a guy out on the bases?
Depends – am I throwing a guy out that’s the winning run?
Sure, why not?
Yeah. I will gladly do that any time. For me, preventing runs and allowing our team to win ballgames is pretty much what I love to do. I mean, I can care less if I’m the guy who hits the walkoff homerun or my teammate. As long as we get the game win, that’s all that matters.
There’ve been questions about you. We talk about the prospect thing, there have been questions about it. What have you improved on this season?
I’ve always been a guy that would have ups and downs. I’d be hot for five games, then I’d cool down. I feel like now I’m putting more quality at-bats together. I’m becoming a harder out to get. I feel like when the game’s on the line when I step up to the plate, guys are like, “Aww, we got a tough out we gotta get.” This game’s all about competing and making yourself a hard out, so if I make sure that my at-bat is hard on the pitcher, and make him throw a lot of pitches, being able to get on base is pretty much what I feel like I’ve gotten better at. That and also I’ve been stealing a lot more bases. I’ve worked on it in the offseason, on getting better jumps, being explosive out of my chute at first base.
What do you aim for for a success rate on stealing bases? What’s your goal that you aim for?
My goal is, I just wanna be close to fifty. So far I’ve had a lot of success on stealing second, stealing third. I just want to get up there to the higher numbers, to where guys late in the season are gonna have to worry about me. So during the game, if I’m on base, the guy behind me is gonna have a lot of pitches to hit. Therefore we win more ballgames that way. Just making it tough on the opponent.
You talked about being a golfer, starting golfing young. Let’s imagine for a second if you hadn’t played baseball, if you had kept golfing. Where do you think you’d be right now?
I’d probably be on the PGA Tour.
Humility. I like that.
Yeah [laughs]. I mean, at a young age I was really good. I could hit my shots. I played a lot where guys said I just made the game look easy. When I was younger, my dad’s big thing was me hitting the ball down the middle and getting on the green in two. If you can get on the green in two, that’s just gonna make your chances a lot better on birdying, make the game a lot easier. I was really good at that. I focused a lot on that when I went out and played. But I probably could’ve been on the PGA Tour [laughs]. I got to scratch at a really young age. I could hit the ball. I was one of the kids that was like thirteen years old just hitting the ball like 270 [yards] already. I mean, there’s guys now that only hit the ball 270, that are like grown men.
But I made my choice. I love the choice that I made. I want to become a major league player. And I can go play golf after baseball [laughs].
That’s what I was gonna say. It’ll be there, right?
Might have to sharpen up my game a little bit, but yeah.