4/2/2013 1:35 P.M. ET
Humbled Hicks looking to create own legacy
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- As Aaron Hicks ran onto the field during pregame warmups before his Major League debut at Target Field on Monday, he heard a voice yell out to him to say hello.
That voice came from former Twins center fielder Torii Hunter, who wanted to reach out to the top prospect before his debut and give him some words of advice.
It was a special moment for Hicks, who couldn't believe that one of his favorite players growing up wanted to reach out to him.
"It felt good," Hicks said with a smile. "The fact that he said he's seen video of me play and knows me. It's cool to see one of your favorite players notice you. So it was fun."
Hunter, who patrolled center field for the Twins at the Metrodome for 11 years before signing with the Angels as a free agent before the 2008 season, had heard about the rookie when Hicks was selected by Minnesota in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. And Hunter said he heard nothing but good things since, especially about this Spring Training.
"He has all the intangibles," Hunter said. "He has all the potential, just give him a little time. He's pretty much a five-tool player -- a switch-hitter who can hit for power, not just a switch-hitter who can poke at the ball. He can hit for power, just like some of the center fielders we've had before us. So I definitely feel like this guy has all the potential in the world to be [as good as] the center fielders that Twins fans have been able to watch over the years."
Hunter knows plenty about the lineage of Twins center fielders that also includes Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, as well as Denard Span, who was traded to the Nationals this offseason.
And Hicks is doing his best to learn about that legacy as well, and he wants to prove he can be the next in that line and not just a footnote in Minnesota's recent center-field history that also includes players such as Rich Becker, Otis Nixon, Carlos Gomez and even Ben Revere, who appeared primed to take over for Span before he was traded to the Phillies in December.
"I feel like with that long line of great center fielders, I want to be the next one in line," Hicks said. "And if I ever leave or whatever happens, I want to be able to pass the torch to the next one. It's an honor to be in that line."
Hicks' first game didn't quite go as planned, however, as he went 0-for-4 with a walk. He struck out in his first three trips to the plate against Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
But rather than sulk about his performance after the game, Hicks vowed to learn from his mistakes and move forward.
"It was fun to get the knowledge and experience of facing him so that next time I'll be more prepared," Hicks said. "Now I know what he throws."
Hicks, ranked as the No. 98 overall prospect by MLB.com, also knows that nothing will be handed to him this year, especially as a rookie. He's making the jump from Double-A right to the big leagues after a Spring Training performance that impressed general manager Terry Ryan.
"He certainly earned the trip north for us," Ryan said. "He did a lot of nice things for us in Spring Training. He played well to earn that. If he struggled, it might be a different story, but he didn't struggle much down there at all."
Hicks' monster spring, which included a three-homer game and five long balls in a three-game span, including one in an exhibition against Team Puerto Rico, turned plenty of heads around baseball.
Even Detroit manager Jim Leyland heard plenty about Hicks despite the fact that the Twins and Tigers didn't play each other in Spring Training this year.
"We know he's got all kind of ability," Leyland said. "He'll be fine. He had a couple good swings, actually pretty impressive to be honest with you. I know he didn't have a great day, but he was pretty impressive. He looks like he's a very talented guy."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire got the same impression from Hicks' debut, as he hit one sharply to shortstop for an out in the seventh inning before drawing his first big league walk in the eighth against reliever Joaquin Benoit. And as Gardenhire pointed out, it's hard to fault Hicks too much for striking out against one of the best pitchers in baseball in Verlander.
"He threw him some nasty pitches so it's like, 'Welcome to the big leagues,'" Gardenhire said with a laugh. "But his last two at-bats were pretty good. He had a walk and ripped the heck out of the other one. He'll be fine."
Hicks added that his confidence level didn't waver despite his first three at-bats, and he isn't worried about it carrying over after his first game.
"I felt good in Spring Training and felt like I should be here, so just because Day 1 didn't go great, I don't think it means it'll be like that in Game 2, Game 3 or anything like that," Hicks said. "This is all about learning."