JUPITER, Fla. -- After sending enticing pitching prospect Jordan Hicks to Minor League camp early for a reason that had nothing to do with his arm, the Cardinals often spoke of returning Hicks to big league camp sometime before the end of spring. That day came Wednesday, when Hicks made
JUPITER, Fla. -- After sending enticing pitching prospect Jordan Hicks to Minor League camp early for a reason that had nothing to do with his arm, the Cardinals often spoke of returning Hicks to big league camp sometime before the end of spring. That day came Wednesday, when Hicks made a 2 2/3-inning cameo in the Cards' 13-6 win over the Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.
Hicks, ranked St. Louis' No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, allowed two runs but also struck out four, including big leaguers Scott Van Slyke and Cameron Maybin. Hicks' second Grapefruit League appearance marked his first since he was sent to Minor League camp three weeks ago after repeated punctuality issues. The move was designed to teach Hicks accountability.
"I just have to show up to the field on time, ready to go," Hicks said afterward. "It's definitely a learning experience. You get on that big league side, and you see everybody else doing the right things, what you should be doing. You don't want to be that guy, you know?"
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he continued to check in on Hicks after his move to the Minors side, which he said Hicks responded to "very positively."
"We believe that consistency, in how you behave and how you compete. We believe that's a good foundation that carries over and allows you to get you to where you want to be," Matheny said. "Trying to be consistent with what we talk a lot about here. If we don't follow through with it, it's a bunch of lip service and it has zero value to anybody. I truly believe in trying to help these guys develop as people as well as players."
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The Cardinals have been patient in letting their late-inning picture unscramble itself in large part because of the cadre of high-upside reliever types developing in their wings. The 21-year-old Hicks entered camp with perhaps the highest ceiling in the club's plentiful class of precocious hard throwers, armed with a triple-digit fastball but no career innings above Class A. Veteran hitters gathered to watch his live batting practice sessions on the back fields, whistling with surprise at the sight of a fastball that's been clocked as fast as 102 mph. On Wednesday, Matheny called Hicks "the biggest arm in camp."
"We set some standards, and they need to be adhered to," Matheny said. "He's been great. He gets all that. He wants to get better. He wants to find a way to be more consistent all the way around."
That means in the strike zone and the clubhouse alike. Hicks' re-arrival was temporary, not meant to further complicate the club's plans for its final two bullpen spots. But St. Louis expects to summon Hicks at some point in the near future, possibly as early as this summer, a year after it needed 19 relievers to cover 162 games. That Hicks has mostly been a starter in the Minors is secondary. His stuff profiles in the late innings, particularly short-term, where the Cardinals could have a need.
"Being a guy that's trustworthy, that tends to manifest itself out on the field too," Matheny said. "Never said we're trying to raise choir boys here, but there are certain character qualities that tend to carry over, whether in this walk of life or in yours."
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St. Louis' No. 1 prospect Alex Reyes continues to pass tests brought on by small modifications in his rehab program. Reyes threw three innings of 15 pitches each to a mix of Major and Minor League hitters Tuesday morning, up from the 40-pitch, two-inning breakdown his previous sessions had been split into.
Reyes won't travel north with the club when it breaks camp next week, instead completing his rehab at the club's Jupiter facility. The Cardinals have set a soft return date for the hard-throwing righty of May 1, at which point he'd be nearly 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery. But that could change if St. Louis opts to deploy Reyes as a starting pitcher, instead of in a hybrid bullpen role.
Matt Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna hit back-to-back home runs for the first time as teammates Wednesday, solo shots against Marlins righty Jumbo Diaz in the sixth. Matheny expects to slot Carpenter and Ozuna in the No. 3 and No. 4 spots, respectively.
Yairo Munoz and Harrison Bader appear neck-and-neck in the race for the club's final bench spot, and both helped their causes Wednesday. Munoz notched his fifth hit in his past eight at bats with a single in the fourth. Bader doubled him home on the next pitch and finished the game 3-for-3.
Miles Mikolas is the only starter the Cardinals won't shield from big league hitters over the last week of spring. The hope is to get Mikolas as many in-game looks as possible after three years of pitching in Japan. He'll start against the Braves at 12:05 p.m. CT on Thursday.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.