The St. Louis Cardinals announced Tuesday that young right-handed pitcher Jordan Hicks will begin 2018 on the Major League roster. Although Hicks had an impressive spring camp, this move was something of a shock given that the 21-year-old has no regular season experience at a level higher than the Florida State League.
What are the Cardinals up to here?
Hicks was a supplemental pick in the 2015 draft from high school in Houston, Texas. Here is his most recent report on the Cardinals Top 20 Prospects for 2018 list, where he ranked 12th among Cards prospects:
12) Jordan Hicks, RHP, Grade B: Age 21, supplemental round pick in 2015 from high school in Houston, Texas; posted 2.74 ERA in 105 innings between Low-A and High-A, 95/45 K/BB, 96 hits; control was poor early in season but posted 32/6 K/BB in 27 innings after being promoted to High-A, then hit 100 MPH in Arizona Fall League; trendy prospect right now but not as polished as late Palm Beach numbers imply, secondaries need more work but upside is enormous and late Florida State League numbers show what he might be able to do; ETA 2021.
Fleshing that out, the ETA is obviously going to be wrong and the ranking at 12 seems too low.
Hicks threw 7.2 innings in major league camp this spring, fanning eight men against one walk, five hits, and two runs allowed. The numbers were excellent, but more important than the surface stats: he was clocked as high as 102 MPH, repeatedly hit 100, and threw strikes while doing so. He also showed a substantially improved slider and radically improved command compared to a year ago.
That said, Hicks was actually cut from major league camp in early March due to tardy arrivals for team activities but was brought back last week since he was throwing so well.
There is always a risk promoting an inexperienced pitcher to the majors but Hicks is clearly maturing rapidly as a pitcher. He’ll need to mature rapidly as a person, too, but the Cardinals seem quite aware of the situation.
“You have to take it one day at a time and allow him to immerse himself into all of this — which can be daunting and overwhelming for a young player,” Mozeliak said. “He’s a talented young man who still has to mature, and understand the demands of this game. But I think he also understands that he’s been given this opportunity. It’s a special opportunity. It’s a great opportunity. He’s ready to take the challenge.”
As for the long-term outlook, relief use for now does not preclude Hicks as a potential starter long-term. He has the fastball and slider in gear; further change-up development would help but that can be done over time. Serving a bullpen apprenticeship can be a nice stepping-stone and the Cardinals have made it work with other pitchers, notably Carlos Martinez.
Some 2080Baseball video from the Arizona Fall League: