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Aaron Hicks gets another shot at leadoff for Twins

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Aaron Hicks made the jump last spring from Double-A to the major leagues and promptly flopped.

He's getting another chance.

Hicks opened his Twins career in a 2-for-48 tailspin and never fully recovered. He was sent down to Triple-A Rochester on Aug. 1 and failed to earn a September promotion, watching from afar as newly acquired Alex Presley held down centre field and the leadoff spot over the final month of the season.

Hicks is using spring training to try and win the job. He's just 24.

"I know what I need to do," Hicks said. "I just need to do it."

Asked what Hicks needed to show him in order to reclaim the job, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn't cite a single statistic.

"Relax," Gardenhire said. "Have some fun. I don't have any, 'You've got to do this, got to do that.' I just want to see him back to enjoying the game because he was having a hard time last year when he left us and he wasn't having a lot of fun playing."

Hicks finished his rookie season with a .192 batting average and eight home runs in 81 big-league games. He won the job by hitting .370 with four home runs and six doubles last spring, but even a repeat of those numbers might not be enough to hold off Presley this time.

Unlike Hicks, Presley is out of minor-league options. Hicks would likely have to score a knockout in their competition to convince the Twins to risk losing the 28-year-old speedster on waivers.

"He was pretty good for us," Gardenhire said of Presley, acquired from Pittsburgh in the Justin Morneau deal. "Came in, showed us he could hit, handled himself really well at the top of the lineup. He's confident in his own ability to hit and he can do that. He's got a nice short swing."

The switch-hitting Hicks, meanwhile, struck out in 30 per cent of his at-bats as a rookie. Being too passive at the plate, both early and late in counts, was a problem for him all year.

He worked again this off-season with Hall of Famer Rod Carew, a Twins special assistant, and has been spotted in the batting cages this spring working with Carew on his bunting. Mention 10 bunt hits as a reasonable goal for Hicks this year, and he shakes his head.

"No, that's not enough," Hicks said. "It's all about getting on base. For me, being a leadoff guy, I need to do something that's going to get me on base."

In nearly 2,200 plate appearances in the minor leagues, Hicks has reached base at a .376 clip. As a Twins rookie last season, his on-base percentage was just .259.

Improving his bunting could allow Hicks to scratch out additional hits and use his outstanding speed to shorten slumps.

"For me it all depends on where they're playing me," Hicks said. "If I feel they're playing a little far back and I can get one down, I'll take it. But if there's an opportunity for me to hit it right past them, then I'm going to try to do that, too."

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