SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Outfielder Brewer Hicklen, the Royals' No. 21 prospect, endured one of the strangest years of his young athletic life in 2018 -- and that's actually saying something, considering his college career. But come next Spring Training, Hicklen -- along with the rest of the Class A Lexington
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Outfielder Brewer Hicklen, the Royals' No. 21 prospect, endured one of the strangest years of his young athletic life in 2018 -- and that's actually saying something, considering his college career. But come next Spring Training, Hicklen -- along with the rest of the Class A Lexington Legends -- will be rewarded with a championship ring.
The path to get there wasn't exactly traditional.
MLB.com sat down with Hicklen, 22, a second-round pick in the 2017 Draft, at the team's recent instructional league.
MLB.com: What a crazy season -- you got held back out of Spring Training because of a numbers game, then you were finally sent to Lexington, then you were promoted to Class A Advanced Wilmington, then you were demoted to Lexington, then you won a championship. Take us through that.
Hicklen: It was a roller coaster, no doubt. Held back here, then to Lexington, then up to Wilmington for a month then back to Lexington to ride along for the championship.
Being held back, that was honestly the first time in my life that I'd been told, "No," and had a door shut in my face. Like all of us in the system, coming through high school and college, we were the best athletes growing up. And that's what happened here -- just all these good athletes ahead of me. But that's life. It gave me a chance to take a step back and realize God still had his hand on me. I needed to make the most of my opportunity after that. It's all about how you respond.
MLB.com: How did you handle it emotionally?
Hicklen: I'm not going to lie -- I struggled for about a week because I was so depressed. I was having a hard time. Then when I got to Lexington, first 20 at-bats, I think I struck out 13 times. I was pressing, trying to do too much. I needed to trust the work I had put in. But the three months after that, it was just good competitive baseball. That's all you can ask for.
MLB.com: Looked like you kind of scuffled at Wilmington, hitting .211 in 22 games.
Hicklen: When I got promoted to Wilmington in the middle of July, I hit a wall up there, too. Swing didn't feel good, but that's baseball. It doesn't always feel good. I had to make some adjustments. I figured it would turn around, because I had a good attitude by then.
But then I got the call that I was going back to Lexington, and I was kind of bummed again. I was hitting the ball hard at Wilmington, but right at people. But [No. 3 prospect Seuly] Matias had gotten hurt, cut his thumb, so I think they wanted someone to come back and be a leader. I think one of my biggest attributes is that I'm a leader -- I think I'm that guy who can be a rock foundation in the locker room. That was my job -- they told me to go there and be a leader, "Do what you do." And it turned out to be one of the funnest times of my life and in baseball. It was a really good team atmosphere.
MLB.com: Overall, you had a pretty solid season at Lexington -- 17 homers, .307 average. But what was it like with the playoffs ride?
Hicklen: High tension. I was telling someone the other day that for the last 15 games of the season, my heartbeat was like 150 from the time I got up in the morning until after the games. It was a lot of pressure. But that is baseball -- responding to pressure. We just had such a great team in terms of everyone picking each other up, just a lot of love for each other. That goes a long way in baseball. You don't find that kind of feeling in Minor League baseball, because the turnover is so high.
In my short time in baseball, I've learned that if you play for one another, your stats will increase just naturally. And people don't always realize that. But we bought in.
MLB.com: You had a wild couple of years at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. You got offered a baseball scholarship there, waited on potential football scholarships, but while you waited on football rides, they gave your baseball scholarship to someone else. Then you redshirted your freshman year because of an injury, but the baseball program offered your scholarship back anyway. Then you tried out for the football team, made it and earned a full football scholarship. And then you told the baseball program to give that scholarship to someone else who had walked on. That is a roller coaster.
Hicklen: No kidding. But I do believe everything happens for a reason. It all worked out in the end. I feel blessed to be here.
MLB.com: You played receiver at UAB, so we know you must be tough enough to take a hit. Do you still have sort of a football mentality?
Hicklen: Oh, yeah. I'm a competitor. I like to have fun every day, but when I get between the lines, I want to beat your teeth in. That's my football mentality.
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.