Highly rated Hicks will start in Beloit
Beloit Snappers manager Nelson Prada says the 20-year-old Hicks can throw 98 miles per hour on the mound.
But Hicks will be stationed in center field tonight when the Snappers are scheduled to begin the Midwest League baseball season at Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Snapper fans already caught Hicks in action at Pohlman Field. The Minnesota Twins’ first-round selection in the June, 2008, draft was promoted to Beloit last June.
After a slow start, Hicks finished the Midwest League season with a .251 batting average in 67 games at Beloit.
Now the 6-foot-2, 178-pound Hicks wants to display the talents that caused scouts to compare him to Torii Hunter, Adam Jones and Darryl Strawberry.
An MLB.com scouting report on Hicks reads: “When all is said and done, Hicks could be a franchise-type player, a power-speed combination who will provide Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field.”
Hicks thought maybe the Twins would assign him to Fort Myers (Fla.), the team’s advanced Class A team. The Twins, however, probably wanted the Long Beach, Calif., native to experience April in Wisconsin.
“Coming back here lets me play in cold weather for the first time,” Hicks said. “I’ve never done that before.”
Hicks was an all-around athlete in Long Beach, but he didn’t play baseball until he was 13. He could dunk a basketball when he was a freshman, and his first passion was golf.
“If I had stayed with that, I think I would have been playing competitively in the PGA or whatever,” Hicks said. “But with baseball, I don’t know, I just loved it as soon as I picked it up. Ever since then, it’s been all baseball, every day.”
Prada says Hicks truly is a five-tool player, a rare commodity that can hit, hit with power, run, throw and field.
“He’s got everything you want,” Prada said.
In fact, Hicks could be on the Snappers’ pitching staff.
“You could put him on the mound, and he could throw 98 (mph),” Prada said. “But I don’t see myself putting him on the mound, because I would be fired the next day.”
With Hicks’ running speed, he is a pitcher’s best friend in center field.
“I love to track balls down,” he said. “Take away hits from guys. That’s what I like to do.”
Hicks has to make the most improvement at the plate to move up the organizational chain. He will bat third in the Snappers’ order, but Prada doesn’t want him to overswing.
“He has to have more patience at the plate,” Prada said. “Sometimes he overswings for power. We have to make him understand that he has power. He doesn’t have to overswing for power.
“He has to understand that he has to be a better average hitter. When he hits the ball more consistently, he’s going to hit homers.”
If he accomplishes what he wants to in the first half of the Midwest League season, the Twins likely will promote him to Fort Myers for the rest of the year.
At that rate, Hicks will be playing in the major leagues at Target Field in Minneapolis by 2013. Hicks, who led his high school to the California state championship, with the title game played at Dodger Stadium, got to tour the Twins’ new stadium at the team’s Fanfest last month.
“It’s terrific,” he said. “I can’t wait to play there.”
For at least the first three months of the season, Beloit fans will get to see one of his earliest steps to get there.