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Hicks primed for big leap with Yankees

Club made trade confident outfielder is at key point in development

NEW YORK -- The Yankees believe that they are picking up Aaron Hicks at just the right time, identifying a moment in his career when the outfielder's performance will catch up with his talent, thanks to development that has taken place on and off the field.

Hicks was acquired from the Twins on Wednesday in exchange for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy, and the 26-year-old switch-hitter said that he is looking forward to a fresh beginning in New York while building upon the progress that he made this past year in Minnesota.

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"I think I just got more comfortable with the surroundings of being in the big leagues, being able to just enjoy playing baseball and not worry about going back to Triple-A or being back in the Minors," Hicks said. "Being able to just enjoy being in the big leagues -- I really think that's what helped me out."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that he believes Hicks is an everyday big league outfielder, though his role with the 2016 club remains uncertain. At minimum, Hicks represents a replacement for free agent Chris Young, while also offering the Yanks flexibility to consider a trade involving Brett Gardner or Carlos Beltran.

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A first-round selection of the Twins in 2008, Hicks boasts a tantalizing package of talent, but he frustrated club officials at times with what they judged to be substandard effort. In 2014, Minnesota assistant general manager Rob Antony revealed that Hicks sometimes did not know who the opposing pitcher was for certain games.

Hicks credits the recently retired veteran Torii Hunter for schooling him in all aspects of the game, helping the California product prepare on the field and "learn how to become a man" off of it.

"It made me realize how much preparation is key to be successful in the big leagues," Hicks said. "If you don't know who the starting pitcher is, it's kind of tough to prepare for that. I think it made me a stronger player, a better player."

A .225 lifetime hitter in 247 big league games, the Yankees are hopeful that Hicks is primed to continue that progress, similar to the steps forward they enjoyed last season with shortstop Didi Gregorius, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and infielder Dustin Ackley.

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Hicks said that he has added a leg kick to his swing which helps him pick up the ball sooner out of the pitcher's hand. A primary challenge for new hitting coach Alan Cockrell will be tweaking Hicks' production against righties. Hicks batted .307 with six homers and an .870 OPS against lefties in 2015, but right-handers held him to a .661 OPS.

"I'm very happy with the progress I've been making," Hicks said. "I'm feeling confident that I can hit big league pitching and that I'm developing into a good Major League hitter."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
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