Updated: Mar 27, 2018
Prospect #7, RHP Jordan Hicks
Age At The Start Of The 2018 Season: 21
Drafted In The 3rd Round Of The 2015 Draft
In conjunction with my friend Colin Garner over at The Redbird Daily, we present to you our combined list of the Top 30 Prospects in the Cardinals organization! Every other day for the next two months, From January 28th until March 29th, we will be presenting you with an exhaustive evaluation on each of the top 30 prospects in the organization starting with prospect #30 and counting down to prospect #1. This is our combined list, not our own individual lists. For additional information on how we came these rankings, CLICK HERE. Without further delay, we present...
Peoria FIP: 4.38 Palm Beach FIP: 1.83
Kyle Reis (Prospect #10 On Personal List, Prior To Combining Lists With Colin Garner)
What I like about Jordan Hicks, is that he's the highest-ceiling pitching prospect left in the organization that has yet to make a major league debut. He's coveted by every organization in baseball while getting the attention of the Cardinals fan base as well as Cardinals' brass.
This is because, among other things, Hicks throws GAS. He throws his lively fastball in the mid to high 90's with regularity. His fastball is yet another fastball in the organization that'll garner a lot of "spin rate" talk, much like Ryan Helsley. Helsley's fastball can be dynamic, but it isn't nearly as active, movement-wise, as Hicks' fastball can be. Fangraphs puts the fastball as a 50 with 55 potential, but it has 60 potential in my book. It's a great combination of velocity, movement, and spin. The fact that most of the fastball movement is downward sink also bodes well for sustainable success. There are some that have expressed concern that Hicks' high leg kick in the windup is unsustainable and worrisome, but I like how it sets up the rhythm in his delivery and it really helps him hide the ball and create deception.
Jordan Hicks also possesses one of the best curveballs in the organization. It can be a genuinely gruesome pitch. He doesn't throw it consistently enough yet, but it has the potential to be truly magical:
Hicks has worked on a slider (shout out to Colin Garner here. He noticed this where I had not), and it's impressive to see how that pitch has developed in such a short time. Where it gets tricky with the slider, is that his curve and his slider might actually be one pitch. What I know for sure is that it's become filthy when it's on, whatever pitch it might be. I love the term "slurve" and I'm happy to call it that if the two pitches are indeed one.
He rounds out his repertoire with a changeup that is very much a work in progress.
Hicks had an up and down campaign in the Arizona Fall League, but I love the way that he finished there. You can read more about Hicks' turn in the Arizona Fall League HERE. What I want you to focus on is that he was outstanding over his last four appearances in the league. It's a small sample, but in seven innings he struck out eight while only allowing four hits and two walks. The AFL is a tough league, and it was a great sign to see him finish strong.
Hicks also has a flare for competing well when the spotlight is on him. During the Midwest League all-star game, Hicks came in to pitch in relief and awed everyone. He struck out the only two batters that he faced while hitting 99 MPH multiple times. That short outing ended up being the talk of the all-star game.
I love how Hicks finished the season dominating at Palm Beach. Hicks was on an innings count, so the Cardinals took it easy on him. All of Hicks' starts there were limited to five innings or less, but he was dominant in those starts. Over 22 innings he struck out 24 while allowing four walks and three earned runs. That was good for an ERA of 1.24 and a batting average against of .203 solely as a starter. When you mix in his additional three relief appearances you get a downright filthy stat line of 27 innings, 32 strikeouts, six walks, 3 earned runs, 0 HR allowed, an ERA of 1.00, and a batting average against of .214. That's as good as you can hope for.
This won't come as a shock to you at this point, but I love that Hicks only surrendered three home runs in 105 innings pitched. What I like is that his slugging percentage against at Palm Beach was .245. That number was .346 at Peoria, which is still impressive. The Florida State League hitting environment aided the improvement that happened in Palm Beach. On the season, Hicks' slugging percentage against was .320, and that's terrific. He doesn't surrender much in the way of hard contact.
Before I get to what I don't like about Jordan Hicks, I feel like I need to explain. See, I had Jordan Hicks as my personal tenth best prospect in the organization. Now, I don't think that there are nine better prospects RIGHT NOW in the organization than Hicks. I want to make that clear. What I am doing is applying what I've learned from previous rankings and over-hyping.
Just one year ago, RHP named Sandy Alcantara found his way into every Cardinals' organizational Top 10 list. Often, he was in the top 5 of those lists. Alcantara was a flame-throwing, 21-year-old kid with a fastball that could reach the 100's, secondary offerings that you could dream about, and a body to match all of the excitement with. Sandy was coming off of a season in which he impressed at Peoria and dominated over a short sample at the end of the season in Palm Beach. During the offseason, Cardinals brass gushed about Alcantara and teased the fans with his imminent arrival in 2017.
Fans rejoiced. They cried out to the heavens in praise of a mid-season savior to rotation or bullpen woes.
But Alcantara struggled mightily at Double-A. He was a shell of what we were told to expect. Now, I have my theories about why this happened (starting him at Springfield is one), but I'm trying to learn from it.
And that gets us to Jordan Hicks. Hicks is in the same situation. Everything that I just said about Alcantara applies to Hicks. There's reason to get excited about this young man. He has top of the rotation potential. He's electric in every sense of the word. But there are still concerns, and it's unfair to put a kid that has only made 31 career minor league starts all of the way up at the top of a rankings list.
Now, this might be a different conversation of Hicks had better command, but he doesn't. Just like with Alcantara, most of his success at this point has come because his stuff is so damn good. The refinement hasn't happened yet. The walks per nine of 3.9 on the season supports my claim. That it was 4.5 per nine over his 14 starts at Peoria is even more alarming. That's not the kind of player that you put on a fast track to the majors. It's the kind of player that you give plenty of time to develop.
What I'm trying to say is "let's not rush this extremely talented young arm." Let's - you, me, and the Cardinals alike - learn from the mistakes and the lesson of Sandy Alcantara and apply that to how we handle Jordan Hicks. He's a precious commodity that should be afforded the patience to develop.
Aside from the command issues, there are a few other areas of concern with Hicks. First, Hicks was dismissed early from Major League camp because of a tardiness issue. Now, this isn't a problem for me. Things like this happen at spring training. The Cardinals were trying to make an example of him as they damn well should have. Still, Hicks has never shown signs of being a problematic player in the past. Until this becomes repeat behavior, it won't be a concern.
There's also reason to believe that Hicks might ultimately be best suited for a bullpen role. He doesn't possess an excellent third offering, although there is hope that the changeup will develop into an average pitch, at best. Entering 2018, it's below average. We'll have a better idea of what that pitch is by the midseason mark. Along those lines, he was so good out of the Palm Beach bullpen at the end of 2017 that you can start to see a player that might be born for a late-inning role. One step at a time, though. Give him every chance to stay a starter. 31 starts in the minors are not nearly enough to have a defined thought on a pitcher, and it certainly isn't enough starts to give up on the development of the third pitch from a kid that the Cardinals' drafted out of high school. The same thing should be said about his mechanics, which aren't close to being repeatable. Give him time. It'll get there.
If I'm comparing Jordan Hicks to anyone, other than Sandy Alcantara, it's Shelby Miller. They're built alike with fastballs that carry their secondary stuff and have under-developed command. The takeaway from this article should be that he has plenty of development yet to do and that he has space rocket-high potential. If he gets there, then, yes, that lazy comparison of Chris Archer is very much do-able.
As always, these articles can't be done without Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. They are equally as reliant on the skills of Cardinalsgif's and NChill17. It's a pleasure to do this list with my friend Colin Garner at The Redbird Daily. An extra special thanks to Jason Pennini at BaseballBellCurve for letting us use his video!
Thanks For Reading!