Before the season, I think I would have said that I ultimately preferred either Helsley or Hudson to end up a bullpen pitcher over Hicks, who I was keen on seeing developed as a starter over the next two years. But I’ve changed my mind for a couple of reasons.
1) When Hicks pitches 100 mph fastballs, FOR STRIKES and with command, and with sink…he is a unique talent, and I think we might be underestimating how unique his talent is. I think his fastball, coming out of the bullpen, is sustainably more special than Rosenthal’s. Statcast has had an Aroldis Chapman filter over the past few years, because of how his fastball has dominated the top velocity rankings. Right now, of the top ten fastest pitches so far this season, Hicks has the top 4, and 6 of the top 10, and Chapman has 3, his highest is at 5. Small sample, yes, but when you watch Hicks pitch, that kind of performance doesn’t seem unsustainable…his delivery doesn’t seem to be max effort and does seem repeatable long term. If Hicks is another Rosenthal, it makes sense to question whether he should be developed as a starter in the same way that those questions were legitimate with Rosenthal. But Rosenthal wasn’t Aroldis Chapman. If Hicks is the next Aroldis Chapman, and capable of pitching multiple innings, perhaps 100 innings a season managed correctly…lets just say that’s an excellent outcome for a prospect.
2) In addition to the above, look at the Cardinals starting depth over the next few years! Already for 2019, we ostensibly have 6 starters good to go in Martinez, Wacha, Weaver, Mikolas, Reyes, and Flaherty. Behind these, Hudson, Helsley and Gomber all have mid rotation ceilings and lower rotation floors. Not to mention the presence of very compelling free agent pitchers that will be available over the next two years if needed, including Keuchel, Sale, and Bumgarner. We can afford to develop Hicks into the next Aroldis Chapman, and if in two years he IS the next Chapman, lock him up for the next ten. Totally worth it.
3) Hicks secondaries show serious promise for a strikeout reliever. Go check out Dellin Betances stuff, at his best, on pitcherlist. He works a slider and curve off of his fastball, and I see there a compelling comp to what Hicks’ repitoire could become (without the horrible walk rate that Betances has). Hicks throws an exciting hammer curve that has in the past been called the best curve in the system, and has shown a distinctly different slider in the mid to high 80’s over his first few games. I could see him eventually working his curve off of an elevated fastball, while tunneling the slider off of low fastballs. That could be a devastating combo. If he pans out, the Hicks could eventually be in the same conversations that Chapman, Kimbrel, and Jansen are in now…and under long term control.
The takeaway: Relax. Let yourself enjoy this kid in the bullpen. This could be a really good thing.