BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) Aaron Hicks was hitting .161 for the Minnesota Twins 1 1/2 months into the 2015 season when manager Ron Gardenhire and assistant general manager Rob Antony took the unusual step of criticizing him publicly.
''To hit .160, .170, those don't last in the big leagues,'' Gardenhire told reporters. ''He needs to start studying the game a little more.''
Antony revealed Hicks didn't know opponents' starting pitcher at times.
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''Yeah, it made me realize how much preparation is key to,'' Hicks said Thursday, a day after he was traded to the New York Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy. ''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.''
Hicks responded to the scolding with a winning 10th-inning single against Boston the following night. The former first-round draft pick raised his average to .215 by the end of the season and hit a career-best .256 this year.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Torii Hunter, a five-time All-Star who returned to the Twins in 2015 for his final season, mentored Hicks this year in the same manner Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez helped Didi Gregorius overcome spring struggles and blossom during the shortstop's first season as Derek Jeter's successor.
''Allowed their physical tools to translate into success and maybe unlocked some things,'' Cashman said.
Hicks, 26, said the 40-year-old Hunter helped him ''learn how to be myself off the field, being able to just separate baseball from my normal life and being able to enjoy myself and learn how to become a man.''
With the Yankees, the switch-hitting Hicks at the least takes over the backup outfielder spot held by Chris Young. He could earn a starting job if New York trades Brett Gardner.
A switch hitter, Hicks helps balance a batting order that was overly left-handed, especially after switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira broke a shin in August.
Hicks gave up batting from the left side in late May 2014. Less than a month later, while on an injury rehabilitation assignment with Double-A New Britain following a shoulder strain, he resumed hitting from both sides.
''Rod Carew called me and told me what the heck am I doing, giving up switch hitting? It's a blessing and I should go back to work harder at it and be able to learn from my mistakes,'' he recalled the Hall of Famer and former Twins star telling him. ''And he was right. I learned from my mistakes and I'm extremely happy that I made a change back.''