Cubs draft KSU lefty Wicks in first round

July 12th, 2021

CHICAGO -- As the names kept coming off the MLB Draft board in the first round on Sunday night, Kansas State lefty Jordan Wicks was getting excited. His conversations with the Cubs had gone well and he was hoping they would come calling.

Inside the Cubs' Draft room in the Wrigley Field offices, vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz and his group were surprised that Wicks was still available when their pick arrived. At No. 21, Chicago called his name.

"I definitely had chills as that clock was counting down," Wicks said. "It was a moment I'll never forget."

Inside the Bellco Theater in Denver, Wicks donned a Cubs jersey for the first time, thinking of his old high school coaches as he buttoned it up. He was a prep pitcher back in 2016, and lived through the emotional roller coaster that his Conway High School (Ark.) coaches rode as the Cubs won the World Series that fall.

Five years later, Wicks was widely regarded as the best left-hander in the MLB Draft class with one of the nation's elite changeups. He was ranked 16th on MLB Pipeline's Top 250 Draft Prospects list, but he was in the Cubs' internal top 10.

So, when No. 21 arrived, there was simply no other way to go, as Kantrovitz explained the situation. That made Wicks the first first-rounder in Kansas State's history and the first pitcher from the college to go in the first three rounds.

"To get who we thought was the best college left-hander with the 21st pick," Kantrovitz said, "we didn't anticipate that happening. When it did, we weren't going to pass him up."

It was the final exclamation point on a memorable day for the Cubs' scouting and player development group.

Earlier in the afternoon, lefty Justin Steele started for Triple-A Iowa and began what turned into a combined, seven-inning no-hitter. At the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Denver, righty Manuel Rodríguez flashed 98-100 mph heat and Brennen Davis launched two homers en route to the event's MVP honors.

Kantrovitz and his staff took a few breaks during their Draft preparation to watch some of the Futures Game.

"We were all pretty excited," Kantrovitz said, "and got a little rowdy when Brennen was hitting those home runs, too. It's an exciting time. And I think it's neat to see players in the system producing like that.

"And then it's also equally exciting to get players that we think are going to produce for us in the future, like Jordan."

In parts of three seasons at Kansas State -- including the pandemic shortened 2020 campaign -- Wicks went 15-6 with a 3.24 ERA in 34 starts. He set a school record with 230 career strikeouts, doing so in 203 innings. In '21, Wicks set his school's single-season strikeout mark with 118, balancing that against 28 walks in 92 1/3 innings.

The 21-year-old Wicks has that devastating changeup, but he balances it with a fastball that sits 92-93 mph and reached 95 mph this year. The lefty also wields a slider that he can manipulate to act more like a cutter, and he noted that his curveball improved by "leaps and bounds" down the stretch this season.

In his second year leading the Cubs’ Draft, Kantrovitz summarized Wicks this way: "Just the complete package of somebody that we think's got the resiliency to be a big league starter."

According to Pipeline’s scouting report on Wicks, the southpaw “works with little effort, easily repeating his delivery and pounding the strike zone while working both sides of the plate. In addition to his stuff and command, he earns praise for his competitiveness and inventiveness on the mound.”

Those last attributes mentioned in the report played a big role not only in Chicago's evaluation, but in Wicks trying to sell the Cubs on him, too.

Kantrovitz noted that he and eight scouts got live looks at Wicks at various points. They also had a preseason Zoom chat with the pitcher. Then last month, the Cubs had a chance to meet with Wicks in person at MLB's Draft combine.

"What I really wanted to show them was my baseball IQ," Wicks said, "my competitiveness, how self-aware I am, how much I know myself. And those were the big selling points for me.

"They obviously can see what I can do on the field. They can measure the velocity, spin rate, all that sort of stuff. But I really wanted to give them an inside look on me and who I am."

As Wicks hoped they would be, the Cubs walked away more than impressed.

"We were blown away," Kantrovitz said. "How thoughtful he was about his repertoire, about his intent, about his work ethic, about his routine and just sort of his game plan when he goes out there. ... To talk to an amateur pitcher that could articulate sort of his intent the way that he could was really impressive."

The next step for the Cubs is to get Wicks to sign on the dotted line (pick No. 21 comes with a $3,132,300 slot value) and get him to Arizona for an assessment. Kantrovitz said Chicago would likely be conservative with the lefty's workload the rest of this year.

From Wicks' side of things, he said he plans on being “a sponge” with the Cubs.

The lefty noted that he already has a strong rapport with White Sox reliever and Kansas State alum Evan Marshall, who has been a resource for advice and chats about pitching. Wicks also said he is excited to pick the brain of Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks, who boasts one of baseball's best changeups.

For now, Wicks is still pinching himself over joining the team he hoped would call his name.

"Every time you hear about the Cubs," Wicks said, "it's one of those historical organizations that you see in the movies, you see in all this historical stuff. To be wearing that jersey was just a surreal feeling."