Last Saturday at Winter Warm-Up in downtown St. Louis, President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak made extensive comments on the bullpen. One name he tossed out as a possible internal option was Jordan Hicks, the 21-year-old flamethrowing righthander. Mozeliak’s comments centered on the organization’s evaluation of Hicks as a “one-trick pony” because of his high-octane fastball and still-developing offspeed pitches, according to Joe Schwarz of Birds on the Black.
Mozeliak spoke fondly of Jordan Hicks — but seemed to be steering him down the late-inning, high-leverage reliever path. Classified him as a “one-trick pony” regarding that triple-digits fastball. #CardsWarmup
— stlCupofJoe (@stlCupofJoe) January 13, 2018
While Hicks’ indeed possesses a wicked fastball, Mo’s comments caught me off guard. I assumed his breaking pitchers weren’t exactly refined; if they were he’d be in the big leagues given his velocity. I reached out to my colleague Kyle Reis, who informed me that Hicks throws his fastball (duh), a curveball, cutter, and change. Of his offspeed deliveries, the curveball is by far the most advanced. Instead of relying on vague quotes made in a hotel in January, let’s dig into the video and see if we can come to any conclusions on Hicks’ offspeed stuff.
We’ll start with two GIF’s.
Notice the two different glovesigns. The first is a 12-6 curveball, the second looks like a slider. As you can see, the movement resembles a curveball and a slider, respectively.
Hicks calls the second pitch a cutter, so I suppose we should, too. How I would classify it would depend on velocity, and that’s not information we have at our disposal right now.
In the first at-bat that we’re going to look at, Hicks gets ahead with a fastball low and away to a right-handed hitter. It’s a perfectly executed pitch in an area of the zone he commands really well.
He follows it up with this offering:
Now in an 0-2 count, he does this:
Back-to-back perfectly executed breaking balls, both resulting in whiffs. The fact that any 21-year-old pitcher can execute two different breaking balls of this quality is exciting, not to mention that said pitcher can reach 100 miles-per-hour with his fastball. And have I mentioned that he’s just 21-years-old?
Unfortunately, we don’t just get to break down the good pitches. Later in the outing, he does this:
There are no two ways around it, it’s not a good pitch. Loopy. Up. Over the middle of the plate. And the hitter in the GIF does what professional hitters should do: crush it.
So far, I’ve seen pretty much what I expected to see: a mixed bag of really good pitches and really bad pitches. Then, later in the start, after a duel of an at-bat, Hicks breaks out this:
That’s a changeup, a potentially devastating pitch to left-handed hitters, and one that I had ZERO expectation of when I started the evaluation.
Hicks’ offspeed pitches appear much more advanced than I expected, granted that this is just one start in the Arizona Fall League. Still, I there are a limited number of pitchers on planet earth that throw 100 miles-per-hour. Even fewer of them are 21-years-old. And even fewer of those can execute two types of breaking balls. And still fewer can execute a changeup as well.
Regardless of how inconsistent these pitches may have been in 2017, keep in mind that Hicks has a total of 165 minor league innings on his arm, and exactly zero of those have come above A-ball. With a fastball like his, Hicks hasn’t had to rely on his offspeed pitches. It’s an adjustment he’ll have to make at Double-A, but we should learn from Sandy Alcantara in 2017. Alcantara was aggressively assigned to Springfield and got off to a slow start because his offspeed stuff wasn’t ready.
Hick’s ceiling may well be as a closer at the major league level, but nobody can say with any sense of certainty if that’s the case or not. He has the potential to be a dominant starter in the mold of Carlos Martinez or (we hope) Alex Reyes. To kneecap his development because deficiencies in the St. Louis bullpen would be, in this humble bloggers’ opinion, developmental malpractice.
Thanks for reading.
Video courtesy of the YouTube channel BaseballCensus.