The Seattle Mariners have an outstanding young catching prospect in Mike Zunino. But Zunino isn't alone: teammate and fellow backstop John Hicks is having a great spring thus far, 5-for-9 with four RBI. Due to all the press that Zunino gets, Hicks isn't a well-known prospect yet. Casual fans haven't heard of him, although Mariners followers and Virginia Cavaliers baseball boosters know who he is.
Hicks was drafted in the fourth round in 2011 from the University of Virginia. He debuted strongly in pro ball with a .309/.331/.445 mark in 38 games for Low-A Clinton after signing, then maintained his momentum in 2012 with a .312/.351/.472 line for High-A High Desert in the California League. He even stole 22 bases, an unusual number for a catcher. He also threw out 54 percent of runners trying to steal on him last year, the best mark of any regular minor league catcher in 2012.
Hicks is unusually athletic for a catcher, but he didn't start playing the position full-time until 2011 and still has some rough edges with his receiving. He coughed up 20 passed balls last year, but that should improve in time. His makeup and leadership skills are well-regarded.
Offensively, Hicks is a line drive hitter who makes solid contact and should hit for a good average, but scouts aren't certain how much home run power he'll show at higher levels. He slugged .472 last year, but most of that damage was in his friendly home park: he hit .335/.374/.542 at home, but .289/.327/.398 on the road.
Hicks will open 2013 in Double-A, but he's getting some attention for his hot spring and he's a legitimately solid prospect. He would be considered the Catcher of the Future in many organizations, but in Seattle he ranks behind Zunino on the backstop depth chart.
Unless something untoward happens to Zunino, that won't change, but catching depth is a valued commodity. John Hicks could make an excellent backup or tasty trade bait for someone in the market for young catching.