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Hicks wins center field job after impressive spring

Hicks wins center field job after impressive spring play video for Hicks wins center field job after impressive spring

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The starting center fielder competition is over for the Twins.

Aaron Hicks, who has yet to play above Double-A New Britain, will be Minnesota's center fielder and leadoff hitter come Opening Day on April 1 against the Tigers at Target Field, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire announced Sunday.

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Hicks, who went 4-for-4 with three runs scored and an RBI against the Blue Jays on Sunday, won the battle over Darin Mastroianni and Joe Benson. Mastroianni is expected to be the club's fourth outfielder while Benson was optioned to Triple-A Rochester on Friday.

"I think it's pretty simple to say Hicks is going to be our center fielder," Gardenhire said. "I don't think it's a shocking announcement by any means."

Hicks, 23, has been impressive this spring, as he's hitting .350/397/.650 with a team-high four homers, 16 RBIs, 16 runs and three stolen bases. He hit five homers in a three-game stretch earlier this month, including three in a game against the Phillies in Clearwater and one against Team Puerto Rico in an exhibition game.

"It feels great," Hicks said. "It's everything I've been working for since I started playing baseball. So it just feels really good to be named center fielder."

Hicks, ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the Twins' organization according to MLB.com, will be making the jump from Double-A to the Majors after having a breakout season at New Britain.

He was a first-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and batted .286/.384/.460 with 13 homers, 21 doubles, 11 triples and 32 stolen bases in 129 games at Double-A last season.

His big year gave the Twins the confidence to part with both Denard Span and Ben Revere in offseason trades that brought the organization some much-needed pitching. The Twins wanted Hicks to win the job this spring despite his lack of experience -- but put the onus on him to perform -- and he delivered.

"I'm just trying to do whatever I can to impress," Hicks said. "I feel like I've had a great Spring Training. I did everything I needed to win the job and to become the center fielder."

The Twins like his ability to take pitches as a leadoff hitter and draw walks, and it's something catcher Joe Mauer has certainly noticed.

"I've been real impressed by him," Mauer said. "For a young guy to take pitches and work at-bats is pretty impressive. Even today, I talked to him and told him taking pitches is going to help the guys behind him. He has a pretty good grasp on how to approach an at-bat. He's had a heck of a spring and I'm proud of him."

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau also likes what he sees from Hicks, who provides solid defense in center and is an above-average baserunner.

"It seems like he can handle it," Morneau said. "He's worked really hard. He's really fast and that's something you need out of a leadoff hitter. And he has a good approach, which is important for a leadoff hitter, so he's just fun to watch."

Hicks, though, said he knows it'll be a difficult transition to the Majors coming from Double-A, but he believes he's ready for the challenge.

"It's definitely going to be a big jump," Hicks said. "Those guys have been up there a long time and have careers. They're the best of the best. But I'm going to go about it by being myself and do what I can to help my team win. I'm going to see a lot of pitches to Mauer and Morneau and see what the pitcher has and let them do damage."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["prospect" ,"spring_training" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ,"spring_training" ] }