Twins sign their first-round Draft pick

Twins sign their first-round Draft pick

COMPTON, Calif. -- Friday was commencement for Aaron Hicks.

There was the requisite cap and plenty of photo opportunities -- and even a document that served as testimony to his achievements but also a passport to future success.

On Friday afternoon, with the Southern California sun shining brightly outside and a hint of the Pacific Ocean breeze, Hicks did not toss his mortar board into the air. He put pen to paper on his first professional baseball contract.

With a Twins cap atop his head, Hicks inked his future as a big league prospect and made it official that Minnesota's first-round pick in last week's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is joining the fold.

"I finally get to do what I love to do and get paid for it," said, Hicks, who picked up a $1.78 million signing bonus. "Hopefully, I'll reach the Major Leagues and pick up where my dad left off."

Hicks was flanked by his dad, Joe, and mother, Jody, in the conference room of MLB's Urban Youth Academy. His sister, Audrey, was there, as well as his girlfriend, Lauren. All wore Twins caps at one point or another and all took turns in front of the camera.

"It's a beginning; it's a beginning," Joe said. "For the things that happened to me and my career, for him to pick it up and decide this is what he wanted to do -- the hard work and the catching up that he had to do -- as a father, this is a very proud day for me. Aaron is the kind of kid that will put his mind to it, and there is no one that can stop him."

That Hicks elevated his Draft status to the first round is a testament to his talent and hard work. He did not pick up the game until age 12. His dad played professional baseball, reaching as high as the Double-A level in the Padres organization before getting hit in the face with a fastball.

That was 1979, and the elder Hicks was a Texas League All-Star, but his big league dreams were never realized. Joe Hicks attempted a comeback two years later, but he was unable to see out of his left eye and he was forced to give up the game.

And give up the game was exactly what Joe did. So as his son grew, he did not want Aaron to play baseball. He knew of its inherent dangers, and he wanted his son to play golf.

But the connection to baseball was inevitable. Young Aaron began to play pick-up ball at a local park without his dad's knowledge.

It was more than a passing interest, too, because it wasn't long before Aaron, who also played football, basketball and street hockey, decided to concentrate on baseball. The kicker was Aaron, who played to a two handicap, also wanted to quit golf because he found it boring.

"He broke my heart," Joe said.

But Joe also allowed his son to pursue a dream, and when he became a coach of his PONY team, he insisted that Aaron hit left-handed and become a switch-hitter.

The intent was twofold: to frustrate him enough to quit baseball, but also to train him to pick up the ball more quickly from the pitcher's hand.

Aaron struggled at first, but by 14, he was pulling the ball with power to right field. Joe slowly became a believer and brought him to the Urban Youth Academy when it opened its doors in 2006.

Twins' top five selections
14.OFAaron HicksWoodrow Wilson HS (Calif.)
27.RHPCarlos GutierrezU of Miami
31.RHPSteven HuntTulane U
60.SSTyler LadendorfHoward Col
92.RHPRobert LaniganAdelphi U
Complete Twins Draft results >

"We knew we had something special. His skills allowed him to rise to a higher level than other kids," said Academy director Darryl Miller. "His skills are really, really high end. He's a five-tool guy. It's been fun to watch a man like Aaron mature and realize his potential at least initially. This is now the beginning of a major road for him."

Hicks showed those skills this season, hitting .487 at Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif., with 21 RBIs and posting a .637 on-base and an .885 slugging percentages. He also took the mound when pitcher Ray Hanson went down to injury. Aaron allowed three unearned runs over eight innings and struck out eight in a no-decision, as Wilson lost the California Interscholastic Federation title game at Dodger Stadium.

The Twins drafted Hicks as an outfielder, and that's fine with Hicks, who wants to play center.

Both father and son believe the Academy helped Aaron become a first-rounder.

"They taught me stuff that I never thought of. Being a smarter hitter, chasing balls out of the strike zone -- fundamentals," said Hicks, whose good pal and Academy alumnus Anthony Gose was taken by the Phillies in the second round of the 2008 Draft. "It definitely helped me to mature as a man."

Next stop for Aaron is Fort Myers, Fla., and the Gulf Coast League Twins. His dad has plenty of perspective on the life as a professional ballplayer, and he has been thinking the past few days on what he wants to say to his son before he goes his own way.

But Friday also served as commencement of a different sort. For Joe, he's come full circle, who's been able to rekindle his love for the game.

"I feel the burn again," Joe said.

Mike Scarr is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.