Minnesota Twins center field prospect Aaron Hicks had a good season by many standards in 2012, batting .286 with 13 home runs over 129 games in Double-A.
In another American League team’s farm system that same season, another young center fielder was having a strong season. Red Sox prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. hit .271 in half a season of Double-A ball after getting called up from a very strong first half at the High-A level.
The respective franchises held these players, who were both 22 at the time, in high regard and pictured each of them as starting center fielders in the big leagues for years to come. And then came the spring of 2013.
Hicks hit .370 with four home runs in Spring Training that year. The scary thing is, you could argue that Bradley did even better, batting .419 in the month of exhibition games. Both players earned spots on the 25-man roster and started on Opening Day, without playing a single game in Triple-A in their lives.
Maybe that was a mistake.
We’re about to open the 2015 season and both Hicks and Bradley don’t know if they’ll be starting on Opening Day this season; nothing is guaranteed for either of them at this point.
Through 538 career Major League at-bats, Hicks has a batting average of .201 and an on-base percentage of .293. In an almost equal sample size of 530 career at-bats, Bradley’s career batting average and on-base percentage are worse.
Sometimes players are rushed to the Majors. This could easily be the case with both players, who each struggled mightily as their respective teams both finished in last place in 2014.
Both players have gotten their share of at-bats in Triple-A since failing to live up to expectations in the Majors but it doesn’t seem to have helped too much. Hicks is batting just .250 over 46 games in Triple-A while Bradley’s Triple-A average is only slightly better.
It is fair to say that if Hicks and Bradley cannot begin to show signs of meeting their high prospect status by the end of this year, their teams could finally give up on them and trade them for little to nothing.
The Red Sox already know the feeling of trading a once promising player for very little return after sending third baseman Will Middlebrooks to the Padres this offseason for Ryan Hanigan, a 34-year-old career backup catcher who has hit just .208 over the past two seasons.
It’s gotten so bad for these players that they might each wind up losing their job to a middle infielder. The Twins called up shortstop Danny Santana last year and he turned a number of heads, batting .319 over 430 at-bats. Minnesota was so impressed by Santana that he wound up starting 62 games in center field just to get him more at-bats.
A little later in the season, Boston called up second base prospect Mookie Betts. Betts didn’t play as well as Santana did with the Twins but he also didn’t play too much second base — he wound up playing in the outfield.
Both Santana and Betts are being looked at as options for starting outfield spots this spring, which could mean little to no playing time for the players who are actually meant to be in center.
Both Bradley and Hicks have shown positive signs this spring and it leaves fans feeling hopeful as the Red Sox and Twins look to bounce back from poor seasons, but if Spring Training taught us anything two years ago, it’s that numbers in exhibition games mean absolutely nothing for these two players.
They’ll need to start getting it done when the games count.