Friday, September 20, 2013

8 reasons why I still hold out hope for Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson

In case you missed it, a couple of prominent Twins rookies had difficult seasons.  Well, difficult might be a massive understatement.  Well, massive might be a huge overstatement.  I'll calibrate my adjectives later, but we all know that Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson performed below expectations.  Expectations may have been too high to begin with, but both players struggled to a surprising extent. 

Hicks and Gibson are hardly unique.  Many productive Twins players performed poorly in their rookie seasons.  In fact, I have eight such case studies that should demonstrate why we can still be optimistic about these two players, regardless of how abysmal they looked in their rookie seasons. 

First, let's examine the two rookies from 2013:

Subject:  Kyle Gibson
Rookie Season:  2013, age 25
Rookie WAR:  -0.8
Career WAR:  ???

Gibson debuted at the end of June to tremendous fanfare.  He had been mostly great at AAA and the Twins' starting pitching was mostly terrible.  Gibson's debut was exciting, appointment viewing, but it proved to be his best start with the Twins.  He posted a 6.53 ERA in 10 starts, before getting sent back to Rochester on August 20.  

Subject:  Aaron Hicks
Rookie Season:  2013
Rookie WAR:  0.6
Career WAR:  ???

By WAR, Hicks wasn't a complete disaster.  His defense and speed saved him from negative value.  His bat was almost entirely negative, save for a couple of huge, memorable games.  Hicks started his Twins' career by hitting .042 in his first 13 games.  He pulled things together slightly to post a 63 OPS+.  He never pulled it together enough to earn a full season with the Twins.  He was sent to Rochester in early August and didn't perform well enough to earn a trip back to Minnesota in September. 

Now that we've looked at the two disappointing rookies, we can remember how some past Twins compared during their rookie seasons. 

Subject:  Frank Viola
Rookie Season:  1982, age 22
Rookie WAR:  -0.1
Career WAR:  47.4

Viola didn't have a terrible rookie season, but he wasn't Sweet Music just yet either.  He isn't a great comp for Gibson because he was quite a bit younger.  However, had Gibson stayed healthy, he may have rocketed up through the farm system like Viola did.  Viola was drafted in 1981 and made his debut just about a year later.  In Viola's first taste of the Majors, he posted a 4-10 record with a 5.21 ERA in 22 starts.  He was actually worse the following year, although he did throw 210 innings.  Viola established himself as a reliable starter in 1984, his third season as a Twin. 

Subject:  Johan Santana
Rookie Season:  2000, age 21
Rookie WAR:  0.1
Career WAR:  50.7

A bit of a cheat, as Santana was a rule 5 pick who needed to remain on the roster in order to remain with the organization.  However, Santana did have a rough debut.  He threw 86 innings, started just five games and nearly walked as many batters as he struck out.  Of course, he was 21 and had never pitched above A ball.  However, he learned on the fly in the Majors and eventually became one of the best pitchers in Twins history.

Subject:  Matt Garza
Rookie Season:  2006, age 22
Rookie WAR:  -0.1
Career WAR:  14.7

Garza's debut might have been the most electric debut that I can remember.  His hype was huge and his performance was full of nervous energy.  Garza got lit up in that first MLB start, but posted a few nice starts later in his rookie season.  He finished with a 5.76 ERA and didn't impress enough to earn a roster spot at the beginning of the 2007 season. 

Subject:  Kyle Lohse
Rookie Season:  2001, age 22 
Rookie WAR:  -0.1
Career WAR:  18.9

Lohse isn't the first guy that Twins fans would want to compare a promising young starter to.  In my opinion, if Kyle Gibson turns out to be Kyle Lohse, the Twins would be happy.  Well, so long as Gibson doesn't act like Kyle Lohse anyway.  Lohse made 16 starts in his rookie season and posted a 5.68 ERA.  I don't think Twins fans look back fondly on the Kyle Lohse era, but he did provide at least three competent seasons while very young and reasonably priced.   

Subject:  Doug Mientkiewicz
Rookie Season:  1999, age 25
Rookie WAR:  -1.6 
Career WAR:  11.0

Dougie Baseball made his debut at a relatively advanced age and didn't impress at the plate.  He posted a 66 OPS+ and struggled to make contact.  Mientkiewicz split time with Ron Coomer, which was probably delightful.  He spent almost all of the 2000 season crushing AAA.  In 2001, he established himself as the Twins' starting first baseman for the next few seasons. 

Subject:  Matt Lawton
Rookie Season:  1996, age 24 
Rookie WAR:  0.6
Career WAR:  15.0

Like Viola, Lawton wasn't bad as a rookie.  He posted a 78 OPS+ and showed the promise of what he would become at maturity.  He walked as much as he struck out and he showed some pop and some speed.  His defense was pretty good as well.  He was just a young player who needed more at bats to reach his potential.  It took a few seasons, but Lawton blossomed into a great, and somewhat underrated player. 

Subject:  Jason Kubel
Rookie Season:  2006, age 24 
Rookie WAR:  -0.9
Career WAR:  4.9

Kubel's debut was actually two years prior, but he didn't play enough to exhaust his rookie status and then he suffered his nasty knee injury and missed all of 2005.  Upon his return to the Twins in 2006, Kubel hit .241/.279/.386 in 235 plate appearances.  He looked overmatched at times, and was not quite the player he was before his injury.  He eventually became an average offensive player and his peak season in 2009 was one of the better offensive seasons in recent Twins' history. 

Subject:  Torii Hunter
Rookie Season:  1999, age 23 
Rookie WAR:  0.8
Career WAR:  49.8

Aaron Hicks is unfairly compared to Torii Hunter.  Both are athletic and talented centerfielders but the comparisons might end there.  Hicks is a patient, sometimes passive hitter with good speed for stealing bases.  Hunter is an aggressive and powerful hitter, with an aggressive approach to running the bases.  However, if Hicks' career takes shape like Hunter's did, then all Twins fans will be somewhere between stoked and very stoked.  Hunter posted a 73 OPS+ as a rookie, but slowly improved and eventually became a guy who will likely produce over 50 WAR in his career. 

Will Hicks and Gibson bounce back to productive careers like the eight case studies presented here?  Perhaps, as history shows that a poor rookie season is no reason to give up on a talented player.  While Gibson may be older than the pitchers presented here, he is similarly inexperienced.  His age shouldn't be held against him, as he can still be a productive pitcher for the Twins for the next decade.  Hicks was about as bad as a hitter can be, but he still holds promise and could develop slowly.  His skill set is too enticing to ignore and he should be given more opportunities from the Twins organization and from Twins fans. 

No comments:

Post a Comment