MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins used their outfield depth to acquire much-needed catching help, as they traded center fielder Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy on Wednesday.
The deal comes as a bit of a surprise, as Hicks, a former top prospect, finally started to show signs last season that he was figuring it out offensively. Hicks, 26, hit .256/.323/.398 with 11 homers, 13 stolen bases and 33 RBIs in 97 games in 2015. A first-round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, Hicks entered this season as just a .201 hitter in his first two seasons in the Majors. He won the Twins' annual Most Improved Player Award for his efforts.
"It was tough to part with him because he started to turn the corner last year, especially maturity-wise," Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "Everybody in that clubhouse said he was a different guy last year and learned what it took to be a professional. Hopefully he continues that path and it's a win-win for both sides."
The Twins, though, have several young outfielders on their roster, including Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler. Minnesota is also experimenting with moving Miguel Sano to the outfield after winning the bid for Korean first baseman Byung Ho Park. Danny Santana also adds depth in center field, while Oswaldo Arcia remains on the roster and is spending the offseason working out at the club's Spring Training facility in Fort Myers, Fla.
"We're hoping Buxton is ready to win that job, but if not, we have Rosario who can play center and we can move Santana back out there," Antony said. "So we've got some options to hold down the fort if Buxton isn't ready to take it."
Murphy, 24, gives the Twins a catcher who can split time with Kurt Suzuki next year and is under team control through 2020. Murphy played in 67 games last year, hitting .277/.327/.406 with three homers and 14 RBIs. He also threw out eight of 29 attempted basestealers in 2015 and hit a go-ahead three-run homer off Twins closer Glen Perkins on July 25. Murphy has thrown out 28 percent of attempted basestealers in his career.
"We think he's going to hit," Antony said. "He's got some power and he has a strong arm behind the plate. He has all the skills and traits to potentially be a starting Major League catcher. It was a priority of ours to upgrade our catching situation. Kurt played so much last year, I think he wore down. So we're hoping Ryan wins a job out of Spring Training and we can divide the catching a little bit more."
Murphy, taken by New York in the third round of the 2009 MLB Draft, has batted .267/.311/.374 in parts of three seasons. He hit .263/.327/.406 with 42 homers and 225 RBIs in 451 games in the Minors. But he was expendable with Brian McCann and top prospect Gary Sanchez on New York's roster.
"We looked at the market for catchers, but this gives us a guy who is under control for a while," Antony said. "We looked at the free-agent market and clubs that had some depth there, and the Yankees were a club we identified that had some depth. They have a really good kid in the Arizona Fall League and McCann. I don't think they wanted to trade Murphy, but like in any deal, you have to give to get."