St. Louis Cardinals: Despite hiccup, Hicks could be next elite closer

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 17: Jordan Hicks
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 17: Jordan Hicks /

Jordan Hicks failed to protect the St. Louis Cardinals’ one-run lead in the ninth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers, but he still shows all the signs of becoming one of the game’s best.

Although Jordan Hicks couldn’t shut the door in the St. Louis Cardinals‘ 5-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, the sky still seems to be the limit for the young hurler, whose recent developments could propel him to stardom.

Chosen as the Cardinals’ closer to begin the year, Hicks came into the game on March 30 and threw two changeups, his newest pitch in an already formidable arsenal. He retired all three batters he faced in that inning, two by strikeout.

He was less dominant in his next game. After retiring the last batter of the eighth inning, Hicks gave up three hits in a row, including a walk-off hit by Christian Yelich. But it’s entirely too early to give up on the wunderkind.

The 22-year-old Hicks still has the blazing heater he gained national fame for in 2018 when his 105-mph fastball on May 19 was the talk of SportsCenter. His darting slider is another weapon, and with his new changeup to give batters a different look, Hicks could be poised to erase one of his flaws: his lack of strikeouts.

In 2018, Hicks struck out 70 batters in 77.2 innings for the St. Louis Cardinals, which is a respectable number. But compared to other fireballers, such as Aroldis Chapman, his strikeout totals don’t match up. That could change this year, and he’s off to a promising start on that front. In Spring Training, Hicks struck out 11 batters in six innings, and that was without the changeup.

Hicks still needs to limit his walks if he wants to become truly dominant. He walked 45 batters in 2018, and he issued seven free passes in Spring Training. Still, a flamethrower with control issues is better than a flamethrower with control issues and less-than-impressive strikeout numbers.

While being able to pitch well is obviously integral to Hicks’ becoming a top-flight closer, another way Hicks seems to have improved is in his actions off the field. Hicks was invited to Spring Training in 2018, but he was sent to minor-league camp on February 28 because of tardiness.

According to a KSDK article, Hicks said he learned from his mistakes. There were no reported problems in this year’s Spring Training regarding Hicks, so his ability to be serious about the game appears to have improved as well.

It also remains to be seen how the young Hicks can handle the pressure of closing games in the big leagues. The Cardinals have never had a player as young as Hicks handle closing duties for the bulk of the year — the closest was 23-year-old Lindy McDaniel, who notched a league-leading 16 saves for the Cardinals in 1959 — so it is possible that the team could be giving him too much, too soon. But the Cardinals obviously think Hicks is ready.

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Hicks clearly still has to work on some parts of his game to join the elites, but with the new changeup and more strikeouts, he seems to be on a good track to becoming a shutdown closer for the St. Louis Cardinals sooner rather than later.