"Class A [Full Season] was pretty tough for me," he said of his 2009 season, when he hit .251 with four homers for Beloit. "The first time I went there from the Gulf Coast League, I faced a lot of guys who were in college [before signing]. I came to a point where I needed to use all of the field and not just pull the ball. I needed to expand my hitting area."
Hicks returned to the Midwest League in 2010 and raised his average to .279 with eight homers, then moved up to Class A Advanced Fort Myers of the Florida State League last year and hit .242 with five homers and 17 steals.
Now the switch-hitting Hicks is winding down his first season in the Eastern League and appears to be gaining steam. He had five hits in six at-bats July 25 against Binghamton and three hits, with a homer, on Saturday against Altoona. Overall he is hitting .278 with 17 doubles, six triples, 11 homers and 27 steals in 37 tries.
"I feel like the season has gone pretty well. I'm trying to stay consistent and keep the batting average up. I try to get on base and allow our team to score runs and win more ballgames," he said.
What does he think of his career to date?
"Sometimes you have to take your bumps, and I've taken some big bumps. This year it's all starting to come together and I've been more of a complete hitter," said Hicks, whose father, Joe, was a Minor Leaguer with the Padres.
Hicks began the season as the Rock Cats' No. 5 hitter, then moved to the leadoff spot a few weeks before the All-Star break.
"I've been there most of my life so I kind of know the role. I know what's expected," said Hicks, who turns 23 in October and is the No. 2 prospect in the Minnesota system.
"He's really matured as a hitter and baseball player this season," said New Britain manager Jeff Smith. "He brings a consistent work routine every day. He is getting consistent with his at-bats from the left side and the right. Even the outs he makes are good quality at-bats. He has very good strike zone knowledge. He can beat you in so many ways -- there are a lot of different things he can do."
Hicks joins a long list of baseball standouts out of Long Beach. He went to the same high school as Sean Burroughs, a Major League veteran who is also in the Minnesota system (Triple-A Rochester). As a boy, Hicks remembers watching Burroughs play in an alumni game.
Hicks was a competitive golfer at an early age before focusing his energy on baseball. He began switch-hitting as a teenager and has stayed with it since his freshman year of high school.
"I just have to be consistent with my workouts," he said. "I have to be sure I get my work in on the right side. The right side is always going to be my natural side."
In a better place: Jeff Smith was the New Britain manager in 2010 when the Rock Cats lost 98 games. Then last year his team missed out on the playoffs with a record of 72-70. Now New Britain is in the playoff hunt coming into the final four weeks of the season with a record of 62-52, in second place and seven games back of Trenton. "That's the key phrase: 'meaningful games in August,'" Smith said.
Impressive debut: In his first game in the Eastern League, Trenton outfielder Adonis Garcia had four hits in five at-bats Friday at Bowie. The 27-year-old Cuban hit .236 in 106 at-bats with Tampa earlier this season. Garcia ended the weekend with six hits in 14 at-bats, including two doubles and a homer.
Making progress: Andrew Bailey, on a rehab assignment from the Boston Red Sox, pitched one inning and allowed one run on three singles in his first outing of the season for Portland on Sunday, an 11-2 home win over Erie. The 2009 American League Rookie of the Year began the season on the disabled list with a thumb injury after he was acquired by Boston in a trade with Oakland. "Everything went good today," he told The Portland Press Herald after the game. "I felt strong and healthy. I'll head back and catch up with the guys in Boston tomorrow. It's all about going forward."