Hicks turning heads with cannon of an arm

Right-hander's fastballs clocked at more than 100 mph

April 6th, 2018

ST. LOUIS -- The ferocious right arm of sends triple-digit fastballs sinking out of reach, and shoots stadium eyes to the scoreboard. It is what hurdled the precocious power reliever over three developmental levels and into a big league bullpen, what makes Cardinals officials salivate when pondering his potential going forward, and, in his second Major League game, what made 's head whip back.

"I looked at [catcher] after my swing and said, 'Oh, man, good to be young again,'" Frazier recalled. "That's not fair. What the hell's that about?"

The Mets' third baseman had good reason to be flummoxed. Even less so than most rookies, there was next to no book on Hicks before he debuted in New York last week. That's part of the reason he's been such a revelation of this just-getting-off-the-ground season. The other part is the stuff, which in some ways is unprecedented, and continues to turn heads.

"If you got it," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said this spring, "flaunt it."

Hicks has.

The first pitch of his career buzzed in at 100.3 mph. The one he struck Frazier out on sizzled at 99.3 mph, per Statcast™. It registered as a sinker after running arm-side, in and under Frazier's bat. It was the fourth-fastest pitch Hicks threw Sunday, and the 16th fastest he's thrown over four scoreless outings.

In all, Hicks owns the eight hardest pitches thrown in baseball this season, per Statcast™, including the only four to eclipse 101 mph. The 21-year-old has single-handedly eliminated the need for "The Chapman Filter," at least temporarily, and done so by throwing predominantly sinkers.

Since Statcast™ launched in 2015, "The Chapman Filter," has existed as a constant caveat in regards to the system's pitch-velocity data. It was created to separate Yankees (then-Reds) closer 's data from the rest of baseball's.

Chapman owns the fastest fastball thrown on record, and he consistently threw so much faster than anyone else that it skewed the data pool. Chapman threw the 22 fastest pitches between 2015-2017, and 96 of the top 100.

This year, his fastest pitch clocked at 100.8 mph. It ranks eighth, tied with Hicks.

"That's kinda cool," Hicks said after the Cardinals home opener Thursday. "I know hitters are going to look for my fastball and hit it early."

For when that happens, Hicks throws a slider that breaks more like a curve, and comes in some 15 mph slower. He has a changeup and has fiddled with a four-seamer, launching all from a violent delivery that speaks to his unique all-sports upbringing.

"It's controlled chaos," said Ralph Garr Jr., the scout who signed Hicks. "His leg kick is so old school. It's not extreme like of an El Duque [Orlando Hernandez], but it reminds me of Dave Stewart. Big time, intimidating, high-knee delivery. He plays peek-a-boo with the ball, then it jumps on you."

Hicks grew up playing baseball, basketball and some football, like many big leaguers. But he also played competitive soccer before a leg injury shifted his focus full time to baseball at age 15, making him something of a rarity on the diamond. His mechanics recall the kinetics of the beautiful game, and power a right arm Hicks grew up strengthening by throwing softballs with his dad.

"We always talk about hand-eye coordination, but he had a lot of foot-eye coordination," said Garr, who now scouts for the Royals. "Legs are a key part of any pitcher's success, but in Jordan, you can see the symmetry of his legs and the rest of his body more evidently."

Hicks was throwing in the mid-90s, and "with that natural sink," when the Cardinals drafted him in the third round out of Cypress Creek High School in Houston in 2015. He touched 98 mph as a 19-year-old in Rookie ball.

"I thought that was my max," Hicks said. "No way I can hit 100.'"

The next spring, he did, on a back field at the club's Spring Training complex in front of a crowd that included president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. The Cardinals shielded Hicks in trade talks after that, opting to deal other hard-throwing youngsters instead. Meanwhile, Hicks stretched out at Class A, where he made 19 starts across two levels in 2017. The Cardinals returned Hicks to Minor League camp early this spring, then promoted him hastily at the end of camp -- all the way to the Majors.

He debuted in New York at 21 years and 206 days old, the third-youngest player on an Opening Day roster and the first Cardinals player since 1996 to jump from Class A to the big leagues to start a season.

"It's been pretty unbelievable," Hicks said.

Seven games in, he's tied for the club lead in appearances. Going forward, Hicks' starting background should make him a key piece in bridging to new closer Greg Holland. And with just 165 2/3 career Minor League innings logged, Hicks' ceiling could actually still be growing.

"There is a max for anybody," Hicks said of his velocity. "I don't know what my max is because I surprise myself every year.

"Hopefully I can keep surprising myself."