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After career year, Hicks vows improvement

'Tired of losing,' veteran outfielder seeking World Series ring
@BryanHoch
February 23, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Aaron Hicks' all-around game has improved markedly since he was acquired from the Twins more than three years ago, and yet the switch-hitting outfielder may not be receiving the credit that he deserves, in the opinion of Yankees manager Aaron Boone. "I think Aaron Hicks is

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Aaron Hicks' all-around game has improved markedly since he was acquired from the Twins more than three years ago, and yet the switch-hitting outfielder may not be receiving the credit that he deserves, in the opinion of Yankees manager Aaron Boone.

"I think Aaron Hicks is the most underrated player in the game," Boone said on Saturday, prior to New York's 8-5 Grapefruit League loss to the Red Sox. "He's such a valuable player, playing a premium position. As good as our guys control the strike zone, he's probably the poster child of it. The ability to hit for power from both sides, athleticism and speed; he's a complete player."

Hicks cracked a run-scoring double off Boston right-hander Josh Smith in his second at-bat of the spring, finishing the afternoon 1-for-2. Informed of Boone's comments, Hicks chuckled and said that he was not sure how to respond.

"The most important thing is for my teammates to enjoy the way I'm playing and knowing that I'm out there trying to help the team win every single day," Hicks said.

The 29-year-old is seeking to improve upon a year in which he set career highs in homers (27), extra-base hits (48) and RBIs (79), compiling a .248/.366/.467 slash line in 137 games.

Hicks served an early stint on the injured list due to a strained right intercostal muscle, then nursed a tight left hamstring in September. Boone said that if Hicks can maintain his health for a full season, he would graduate into an elite player.

"I want to play more games than I did last year and win a World Series," Hicks said. "I'm tired of losing. We've come so close, but I'm tired of saying we came close."

First things first

Luke Voit is said to have a leg up in the battle to serve as the Opening Day first baseman, but Boone believes that Greg Bird can make it a tough call.

Bird looked the part in the Yankees' exhibition opener, banging a double off the left-field wall and singling to right field in his two at-bats.

"I felt smooth and easy, so that's nice," Bird said. "I didn't feel like I was trying to do too much and I didn't feel like I had to. I just felt like I took my swing, and that's what I want."

Bird hit .199 with 11 homers and 38 RBIs in 82 games last season, and his playing time all but vanished after the Yankees acquired Voit from the Cardinals in late July. From Aug. 21 through the end of the regular season, Voit hit .353/.427/.759 with 14 homers and 39 RBIs.

"We're a long way between now and the end of March," Boone said. "Luke Voit has earned the right to be that guy, but as I've said all along, I believe Greg Bird can be an impact player. I have never lost sight of that, even at his lowest points last year. We'll see how it unfolds."

Bird has said that he put on about 20 pounds over the offseason, and Boone opined that Bird seems to be in better physical condition than he was at any point last year. Boone added that Bird has the defensive edge over Voit.

"It's a game. You're always competing," Bird said. "I like it that way. You've got to bring your 'A' game and that's the way it should be."

Gleyber good

The Yankees' first home run of 2019 belonged to Gleyber Torres, who parked a solo shot to center field in the first inning on Saturday. Torres slugged 24 homers in his rookie campaign and has his sights set upon even greater numbers this coming season.

"Last year, I had a great year. I feel proud for that," Torres said. "During my offseason, my goal mentally was to be better. Last year is past. I want to be in the present right now. I just want to be great. I'm really focused on my body. I put on a little weight, more muscle to try to be a little stronger. I just want to play healthy all year and be consistent. I think that's the goal."

Glove story

After missing most of last season to post-concussion symptoms, Clint Frazier said that he is focusing more on his defense this spring. The outfielder patrolled left field uneventfully on Saturday, securing a first-inning flyout off the bat of Boston’s Sandy Leon.

"That's the reason my season was cut short last year," Frazier said. "Ultimately, if I was a little bit better in the outfield, I would have probably put myself in a better position and wouldn't have been in that situation. It's been a big thought in the back of my mind."

Frazier sustained a concussion in the Yanks' second exhibition of 2018, slamming the back of his head into a fence after making a catch against the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla. Frazier has spent time with special assistant Carlos Beltran and outfielder Reggie Willits this spring, aiming to improve his routes.

"Everyone wants to come to the park and hit," Frazier said. "Defense isn't the sexy part of the game, but it has to be mine now. It's a priority moving forward. I want people to believe in me whenever I'm in the outfield."

Up next

The Yankees will visit the Rays on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET in Port Charlotte, Fla. Right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga (2-0, 5.11 ERA in 2018) will start opposite right-hander Tyler Glasnow (2-7, 4.27 ERA in 2018). New York's travel roster will include top prospect Estevan Florial, plus Clint Frazier, DJ LeMahieu, Austin Romine and Voit. The game will air live on MLB.TV and MLB Network.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.