St. Louis Cardinals: Season delay benefits Jordan Hicks

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 10: Jordan Hicks #49 of the St. Louis Cardinals delivers a pitch against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on June 10, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JUNE 10: Jordan Hicks #49 of the St. Louis Cardinals delivers a pitch against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on June 10, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

One of the biggest questions about 2020 was when young fireballer Jordan Hicks was going to return for the St. Louis Cardinals. His situation is one that benefits from the delay of the season.

What we know as the normal path from the draft to the big leagues isn’t always the case. At times, players spend zero time in the minor leagues (miss you, Alexei Ramirez), but that is becoming rarer by the year. The most common path for a St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguer is to work your way up from Rookie Ball all the way to AAA before finally getting your shot at the big leagues.

In the case of the 23-year-old fireballer, Jordan Hicks, the Cardinals decided that he was worthy of the big leagues after pitching at High-A Palm Beach. After Hicks was sent out of MLB camp for showing up late in 2018, he was given another chance and started the season with the big club.

With a sinker that averaged100.5 MPH in 2018 and 101.1 MPH in 2019, Hicks is a dangerous pitcher that the team was lucky to have.

After pitching in 73 games last season, Hicks had a 3.59 ERA and a 3.74 FIP as well as a solid 8.1 strikeouts per nine, but a gross 5.2 walks per nine. His issue was clear, it was all about control.

In 2019, Hicks started the year as the consensus closer for the Cardinals, and over his first 15 save opportunities, he had blown only one. He had dropped his walks to 3.5 per nine (improvement but still not what you want) and upped his strikeouts per nine to 9.7. He also lowered his ERA and FIP to 3.14 and 3.21. There was a tangible improvement, and it was all coming along with the aforementioned increase in average sinker velocity.

But, as we all know, Hicks’ season was cut short in about the worst way possible. At the end of June, the Cardinals announced that Hicks would need Tommy John surgery. This ended Hicks’ sophomore season, just as it was starting to look great.

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This was about the worst timing possible because the injury requires a 12-13 month rehab, which means that Hicks was going to be out until at least the All-Star break in 2020. However, the Cardinals can’t say they are currently missing his production.

The delay to the season isn’t all bad.

Assuming Hicks is still getting his rehab in, the delay in the season could make Hicks’ injury impact minimal on the 2020 season. Whenever the team does start play again, Hicks will no doubt need a lengthy startup, so a two-week spring training wouldn’t be nearly enough to get Hicks back up to game speed, but the delayed start to the season should minimize the time that he has to miss.

Yesterday, I wrote how good the Cardinals bullpen would still be in 2020, and all that was assuming Hicks wouldn’t be active. While an active Hicks makes Angel Rondon‘s chances of pitching in the bigs in 2020 slightly smaller, having Hicks for the majority of whatever the 2020 season looks like could make the Cardinals’ bullpen easily the best in the NL.

If the team had Hicks for the whole year last year, Giovanny Gallegos and Carlos Martinez wouldn’t have had to save games and could’ve been used in bigger, mid-game spots. In 2020, even with Martinez returning to the starting rotation, having Hicks back would be huge.

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Hicks likely still won’t be 100% ready to go when the season does start back up, but the delay in the season is definitely benefiting the Cardinals on his front. Hicks is a huge arm that was blossoming before his injury. Sadly, Tommy John surgery is almost getting normal at this point, and there are plenty of cases where pitchers come back throwing even harder. I can’t wait to see what that, as well as the team, looks like when Hicks returns.