21-Year-Old Rookie Jordan Hicks Is the New Hardest Thrower in MLB

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2018

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 02:  Jordan Hicks #49 of the St. Louis Cardinals walks off the field after the eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 2, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jordan Hicks
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Velocity isn't everything, but it's definitely something. Just ask St. Louis Cardinals rookie Jordan Hicks.

Or, more accurately, ask the guys he's faced in his brief, scintillating MLB audition.

"I looked at [35-year-old St. Louis catcher] Yadier Molina after my swing and said, 'Oh, man, good to be young again,'" veteran New York Mets third baseman Todd Frazier, 32, said, per Joe Trezza of MLB.com. "That's not fair. What the hell's that about?"

Frazier struck out on a 99.3 mph sinker, according to StatCast, as Trezza noted. Overall, Hicks fanned three with one hit allowed in 3.1 innings versus the Mets.

Hicks didn't reach legal U.S. drinking age until September 2017. With the fastballs he's slinging, he'll make many big league hitters consider pouring themselves a stiff one.

Through an admittedly minuscule sample size of 5.1 innings, Hicks' average fastball has clocked in at 99.9 mph, tops in MLB, per FanGraphs. He's 0.4 mph ahead of New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who for years has reigned as the undisputed king of radar-gun-melting cheddar.

It's far too early to hoist Hicks' right arm in the air and declare him the velocity champ. Let's see how he fares over a full season, or at least a predictive sample size.

So far, though, whew.

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 02:  Jordan Hicks #49 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches in the eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 2, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jordan Hicks
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Cardinals drafted Hicks out of Houston's Cypress Creek High School in the third round of the 2015 amateur draft. Last season, his second year in pro ball, he jumped from Single-A to High-A and averaged 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings with a 1.00 ERA in 27 frames at the higher level.

This spring, he held opposing hitters to a .179 average and fanned eight in 7.2 innings. It was enough to skip two developmental rungs, win a place in the Cardinals bullpen and get an opportunity to showcase his whiplash-inducing heater at the highest level.

The exhibition slate began inauspciously for Hicks. He was late for mandatory team activities and was subsequently demoted from big league camp, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Ultimately, St. Louis opted to give him a look in the Grapefruit League, and he seized his second chance.

"We're a talent-based industry," manager Mike Matheny said, per Goold. "When you have a unique talent like that and we have a need in our bullpen, right, we're trying to figure out how we can use him in that spot. There is opportunity there."

Hicks is making the most of it early. Soon, he could enter the rotation conversation.

Of his 34 MiLB appearances, 31 came as a starter. Given his age and inexperience, the Cardinals would be wise to bring him along slowly. He threw 105 innings last year and 60.2 the year before. He's yet to be tested by the rigors of a 162-game grind.

He'll also need to refine his off-speed offerings, which include a power breaking ball and work-in-progress changeup. History has shown that major leaguers can catch up to even the most blazing fastball if they know it's coming.

Command, too, has been an issue, as it is for many emerging hard throwers. Across 165.2 minor league frames, Hicks averaged four walks per nine innings.

That said, the Cards can be forgiven for wanting to get the most out of their shiny new flamethrower as they jockey for position in the National League Central with the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Add Hicks to a starting corps fronted by Carlos Martinez (26) as well as right-handers Jack Flaherty (22) and Luke Weaver (24), and you've got the makings of something special for years to come.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 01:  Jordan Hicks #49 of the St. Louis Cardinals in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on April 1, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Cardinals defeated the Mets 5-1.  (Photo by J
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Are we gazing ahead and speculating based on a handful of innings? Sure. Do young pitchers with big arms sometimes regress or succumb to the injury bug? Of course.

Is it worth dreaming on a kid who can out-fastball Aroldis Chapman, even for a brief stretch? You bet your sweet four-seamer.

As Matheny put it this spring, per Trezza: "If you got it, flaunt it."

Hicks is flaunting. Radar guns are popping. And we'll all be watching.

     

All statistics current as of Sunday and courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs.

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