The Cards chose Jordan Hicks with the 105th pick in the 2015 draft. Hicks was the 5th pick in the top 105 and the club had 7 of the fist 161 picks. Below are those 7 in order, and those 7 picks are really all you need to know about that draft for the Cards.
39 Jake Woodford
66 Bryce Denton
100 Harrison Bader
105 Jordan Hicks
131 Paul DeJong
161 Ryan Helsley
Jordan Hicks was 18 at the time of the draft and had just graduated from high school in Cypress Creek in the Houston area. Hicks signed for $600,000 and debuted in 2016, his age-19 season, at the rookie ball level. During the 2016 season, he moved up to A-.
Hicks threw 60 IP in 2016 and was pretty good, but not spectacular. He opened 2017 in low A, which was Peoria at that time. Hicks pitched well, and the club promoted him to A+ (Palm Beach) where he was excellent. Hicks was a starter but appeared 3 times in relief in A+.
After the season, the club sent Hicks to the Arizona Fall League, where he was ok in 15 IP. He had 16 Ks in 15 IP. Derrick Goold reported that Hicks had been a popular target for other teams in trade talks.
In 2018, the Cards invited Hicks to major league camp. Reporters indicated Yadier Molina said Hicks had MLB stuff and was ready. Hicks made the team out of spring training.
Here was the pitching staff in 2018 coming out of ST. Rosters were only 25 players.
Starters (5): Jack Flaherty, Carlos Martinez, Miles Mikolas, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver
Bullpen (8): Bud Norris, Dominic Leone, Brett Cecil, Matt Bowman, Tyler Lyons, Sam Tuivailala, Mike Mayers, and Jordan Hicks
IL: Luke Gregerson, Alex Reyes, Adam Wainwright
John Brebbia was the last pitcher optioned out.
In the offseason prior to the 2018 season, the club acquired Marcell Ozuna for pitching, Dominic Leone, and Bud Norris.
The minors were ok.
In mid-season 2017, Baseball America noted the Cards had fallen off after a long period of consistency. The midseason top 10 BA Prospects were:
1. Alex Reyes, 22, (injured)
2. Carson Kelly, 22, in AAA
3. Jack Flaherty, 21, in AAA
4. Luke Wweaver, 23, MLB
5. Magneuris Sierra, 21, AA
6. Paul DeJong, 23, MLB
7. Jose Adolis Garcia, 24, AAA
8. Harrison Bader, 23, AAA
9. Dakota Hudson, 22, AA
10. Delvin Perez, 18, Rookie (Johson City)
The rising players were Oscar Mercado, Zac Gallen, Andrew Knizner, Luke Voit, and John Brebbia.
The falling players were Sandy Alcantara ("RHP Sandy Alcantara's subpar fastball command has nullified the effectiveness of his upper 90s heater. He was 3-5, 5.76 with 69 strikeouts and 32 walks in 79.1 innings at Double-A Springfield."), Eliezer Alvarez, Bryce Denton, and Nick Plummer. Edmundo Sosa was injured with a hamate bone fracture.
The 2018 rankings from BA came out before the Ozuna trade.
1. Alex Reyes
2. Jack Flaherty
3. Carson Kelly
4. Sandy Alcantara
5. Tyler O'Neill
6. Jordan Hicks
7. Magneuris Sierra
8. Harrison Bader
9. Dakota Hudson
10. Ryan Helsley
Luke Weaver and Paul DeJong graduated. Flaherty and Alcantara moved up. Tyler O'Neill jointed, as did Ryan Helsley. Alcantara and Sierra would go to Miami in the Ozuna trade, along with Zac Gallen who did not make the top 10.
Here are some of the pitchers who were in Memphis in 2017. Flaherty, Gallen, Helsley, Hudosn, Weaver, Matt Pearce, John Gant, Rowan Wick, Chris Ellis, Marco Gonzalez, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Ryan Sherrif, and Miguel Socolovich.
Here are some of the pitchers in Memphis in 2018. Kevin Herget, Hudson, Ponce de Leon, Ellis, Austin Gomber, Jake Woodford, Andrew Morales, Edward Mujica, John Gant, Conner Greene.
If you venture below AAA in 2018, you will see a series of misses on pitchers that led to the club's recent shortages. That's a different story, though.
For the most part, when the Cards called up Hicks, they had starters but needed relievers. The promotion was surprising, but it was also exciting due to his exciting fastball. The issue is whether the promotion was good for Jordan Hicks. I don't think it was.
Right now, we see Jordan Hicks has had injuries but retains his fastball. He lacks command and strong secondary pitches. He was fine in the majors, but John Brebbia was better. Mike Mayers was close by FIP/xFIP. A season in Springfield/Memphis may have benefitted Hicks' repertoire.
Of course, Hicks needed UCL repair in 2019. We don't know if that would have been the case if he pitched in the minors. He could have injured his arm sooner, later, or not at all. Hicks was likely happy to have the injury time at the MLB level.
Looking at the situation in its entirety, it is reasonable to conclude the club wanted to get MLB innings out of Hicks before he hurt himself. There are some things that suggest otherwise.
For example, if the club thought Hicks was getting injured, they could have traded him. Goold reported that Hicks was the in-demand Cardinal prospect, on a team that had 3 future Cy Young contenders (Flaherty, Alcantara, and Gallen) plus Luke Weaver and Dakota Hudson.
One can't help but wonder how things would have turned out if the club had sent Miami Hicks and Hudson instead of Alcantara and Gallen.
Another thing to consider is the 2018 season. The club finished 3 games back of the Rockies in the second wild card in 2018 and 7.5 games back of the Brewers for the NL Central title. It is easy to look back at the 2018 team as a hopeless team. That isn't quite accurate.
In 2017, the Cards got almost 9 fWAR from Tommy Pham and Dexter Fowler. In 2018, they got negative fWAR from the pair. One could reasonably expect a drop-off from 9. Dropping by 9 fWAR was a shock. Likewise, the club's new OFer was a disappointment for the second year in a row, as Ozuna fell short of expectations.
The pitchers disappointed too. Wacha and Martinez struggled at age 26. Wainwright came back well, but Alex Reyes' return was a bust. Outside relievers again failed the club. Norris, Leone, Cecil, and Gregerson were hurt or ineffective (thought Norris had a good first half).
Going back to the opening of the 2018 season, optimism was reasonable. If the club had gotten good performances from 2 of the 3 starting OF (instead of 0 of 3), then Harrison Bader's addition would have been impactful.
A lot went wrong in 2018, and that is how it goes. Looking back, it feels like the club made the wrong choices with Jordan Hicks. A lot of choices in 2016-2018 turned out poorly.