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08/27/2008 7:42 PM ET
Hicks leads Twins into GCL playoffs
14th overall pick hopes to add pro title to high school crown
Aaron Hicks tied for ninth in the Gulf Coast League in batting with a .318 average. (Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

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It's in the handbook about prospects: Young, toolsy high school outfielders do not put up good numbers when they first enter pro ball.

Someone forgot to send the manual to Twins' first-round pick Aaron Hicks. The Wilson High School product from Long Beach, Calif., finished in the top 10 in a host of offensive categories during his summer debut in the Gulf Coast League. Heading into the draft, the report on Hicks was that he was long on tools and potential but short on the ability to use it on the field just yet. Guess those tools got sharpened in a hurry.

"I just stayed focused. I didn't worry about [that stuff]," said Hicks, whose GCL Twins posted the second-best record in the league but finished behind the Pirates and will face the Nationals in a one-game playoff on Thursday. "I was just using all my tools, used my running, doing everything I could to get on base and help win games. I figured if I hit the ball solid, I was having a pretty good day. I just wanted to do that the whole time."

It certainly seems like he did, with a relatively low strikeout rate (32 in 173 at-bats over 45 games, compared to 28 walks) and 18 extra-base hits in his first summer. But putting bat on ball hasn't been the biggest challenge for the SoCal teenager, who was taken with the 14th overall pick. Learning all about what it takes to be a professional has.

"When I first got here, it was going to the fast-food places, going to restaurants now and then," Hicks said with a laugh. "Now I'm trying eat better. As a teenager, you just want to eat cheeseburgers every day.

"It's been about the routine, doing the same thing to get ready for the game and preparing. It's something you have to do every day. You're not always going to feel 100 percent. You have to work through it. In high school you do usually feel 100 percent because you don't play every day."

Something else that doesn't happen every day is getting to play for a championship. Hicks won one in high school, and even though it's just the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, adding a pro title to his resume certainly would be a nice way to kick things off.

"It'd be fun to finish my first year off having two rings instead of just one, having a pro ring along with the high school ring," Hicks said. "I'm looking forward to it. Not many people get to have that chance to get that pro ring their first time out."

Matchup

Twins (35-19) vs. Nationals (32-21)
One-game playoff, Thursday, Aug. 28

The Twins and Nats didn't play each other during the regular season, so there's no head-to-head statistics to compare. The Twins last were in the postseason in 1999 when they lost the championship to the Mets. The Nationals organization hasn't had an entry in the GCL playoffs since the GCL Expos got bounced by the Yankees in a 1996 semifinal game. The Twins had the top offense in the Rookie-level league, with a .279 average and .753 OPS. They also had the second-lowest ERA (2.98). The Nats were sixth in that category (3.47) while boasting the fourth-best OPS offensively (.703). They also led the league with 307 runs scored.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Twins: First-round pick Aaron Hicks has exceeded expectations, finishing sixth in the league with a .900 OPS. The center fielder batted.318 with 18 extra-base hits and 12 steals in 45 games. 3B Juan Sanchez wasn't too far behind him, hitting .314 in 42 games. Four Twins pitchers finished third through sixth in the GCL in strikeouts: Angelo Sanchez (54), Martier Garcia (53), Edgar Ibarra and Miguel Munoz (both at 51). Kelvin Mota topped the GCL with 12 saves, posting a 1.07 ERA in 19 outings.

Nationals: SS Esmailyn Gonzalez won the GCL batting title, hitting .343. He also finished second with a .431 OBP and fifth with 31 RBIs and a .905 OPS while stealing nine bases in 11 tries. 3B Ronnie Labrie was right behind Gonzalez with a .429 OBP. He hit .328, good for sixth in the leauge, while also stealing nine bags. OF Chris Curran had 14 steals (ninth-best) while hitting .315. 2008 draftee Adrian Nieto signed late, but the American Heritage High School product went 5-for-16 (.313) in six games. LHP Jack McGeary led the GCL with 64 Ks in 59 2/3 IP. He had a 2.28 ERA in four August starts. He's joined by fellow 2007 draftee Josh Smoker, who had a 1.37 ERA in six starts.

Phillies (32-21) vs. Pirates (36-18)
One-game playoff, Thursday, Aug. 28

The Phillies had the fourth-lowest ERA in the league at 3.36 as well as the fourth-best batting average (.263) while placing second in team OPS (.715). They won the championship in 2002 in a three-game series against the Dodgers. That's the last time they made the playoffs. The Pirates, owners of the league's best record, did so with the second-best batting average (.265), though they were ninth in runs scored. What got them to the top was their pitching, which led the league with a 2.87 ERA. They played for the GCL title back in 2003 but lost to the Braves.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Phillies: The Phils had three toolsy high schoolers taken early in this year's draft. All have ridiculous upside, even if the performance hasn't consistently been there. What they could do in the playoffs, however, makes them worth watching: 24th overall pick Anthony Hewitt has hit just .197 but has terrific raw power; sandwich pick OF Zach Collier batted .271 with five steals and 19 RBIs in 37 games; and second-rounder Anthony Gose hit .256 in 11 games but hasn't played since July 12. On the pitching side, second-round pick Jason Knapp has impressed with a 2.61 ERA and 38 Ks in 31 IP, though his last outing was Aug. 12. Yohan Flande finished third in the league with a 2.19 ERA, while closer Ryan Bergh was second with nine saves and finished with a 0.64 ERA over 28 1/3 IP.

Pirates: Adenson Chourio topped the team -- and finished third in the league -- with a .335 average. He also finished second with 30 steals in 49 games. Jarek Cunningham hit .318 for the Baby Bucs and his .507 SLG was good for fifth in the league. Robbie Grossman signed just before the deadline for over slot, but the sixth-rounder could make an impact after grabbing 13 regular-season at-bats. Nelson Pereira was one of the GCL's better all-around pitchers, winning the ERA title (1.62) and fishing second in wins (6) while striking out 46 in 50 IP. Tyler Cox, a college pitcher taken in the 35th round this year, finished second with a 1.79 ERA.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.