Ambition for healthy Hicks: A 30-30 season

March 27th, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. --  gets it; he really does. It hasn’t been much fun on his side of the coin, either, understanding the expectations of scoring a big contract as the Yankees’ center fielder, then being unable to stay on the field. He wants to make up for that lost time, and in a big way.

Hicks said that he is setting his sights on a 30-30 season, which only two Yankees have ever achieved: Bobby Bonds (1975) and Alfonso Soriano (2002-03). About 15 pounds trimmer and brimming with confidence after testing his surgically repaired left wrist this past winter, Hicks believes it might be possible.

“There is something special about 30-30,” Hicks said. “For me, I want to steal more, and I feel like 30 home runs are reachable for me. Those two together are a dangerous pair. That’s definitely something I would like to do.”

The Yankees are crunching numbers to prepare a massive contract extension for outfielder Aaron Judge, and it is worth reflecting upon two recent instances when the Bombers altered their stance of not negotiating before free agency. In February 2019, the Yankees interrupted their spring camp to extend Hicks (seven years, $70 million) and right-hander Luis Severino (four years, $40 million).

Those deals have -- thus far -- not yielded much in the way of on-field results. Severino has logged 27 2/3 innings (including the postseason) over the past three seasons, while Hicks has played in 145 of a possible 384 regular-season games, batting .223/.338/.410 (103 OPS+) with 22 homers and 71 RBIs.

And yet, Hicks reiterates that he wants 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases, hoping to speak it into existence. Lengthy chats this past offseason in Arizona with his personal trainer, Abdul Sillah, prompted Hicks to perform some quick and dirty statistical calculations. Five home runs and five steals a month, they agreed, would do it. The math checks out; now Hicks must play a complete slate.

“I’m excited about Aaron,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Obviously health has been an issue for him here these last couple of years, but we know what kind of player he is when he’s healthy, and we know what he’s capable of. We know how important he is to our team, with the ability to play in the middle of the diamond as a switch-hitter.”

Boone said that he felt it spoke to Hicks’ hunger that he participated in the Dominican Winter League, where he appeared in 12 December games for Leones del Escogido.

“I got to work on a lot of things that you can’t really work on during the season, like hitting the ball the other way,” Hicks said. “I made sure my first two at-bats, I was trying to do that. Stealing bases, I was 2-for-2 there. I was really working on good jumps, going first to third. It really opens your eyes to a lot of things -- seeing a team go first to third, first to home.”

Hicks loved the experience, especially having walk-up songs thumping throughout his often lengthy at-bats. It also reinforced a belief that he got away from his strengths after belting a career-high 27 home runs for the Yankees in 2018, saying that he tried to develop into a “40 to 50” home run threat. He has hit just 22 since then.

“I wanted to hit the ball in the air and take my chances with that,” Hicks said. “Now, it’s like, I want to get more hits. I want to utilize my speed; I want to bunt more. The last time I did that all in one season was probably in 2017, and I almost went to an All-Star Game.”

As for the stolen bases, Hicks’ Major League career high is 13, which he did in 97 games for the Twins in 2015. He swiped 32 bags for Double-A New Britain back in '12. (Only six Major Leaguers stole 30 or more bases in '21, paced by Starling Marte’s 47 for the A’s and Marlins.)

Boone applauds Hicks’ intent, saying: “I like that his mind is right there. Him coming in at a lighter weight is going to serve him well, hopefully not only on the bases but in center field as well. Aaron’s a guy that I could see hitting almost anywhere in our lineup, but if he’s hitting in that No. 6 or No. 7 spot in our lineup, maybe there are some more chances to run there.”

Added Hicks: “If they allow me to go and to do that, I think I can easily reach 30. I feel like we’re working on more speed now.”

Yankees officials are cautiously optimistic that Hicks can be a healthy contributor this season, penciling him into a starting outfield that projects to include Joey Gallo, Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

They have thus far resisted any urge to call upon free agent Brett Gardner, believing they are covered in the event of a Hicks injury by Gallo, Judge, Tim Locastro, Estevan Florial and non-roster invitee Ender Inciarte. Hicks intends to show that insurance policies aren’t necessary, promising a season that can win back the fan base.

“Stealing bases, hitting home runs, coming up in big spots and coming through,” Hicks said. “Those are things that I want to do to help this team win, and I can.”