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Brewer Hicklen Takes Football Mindset To Arizona Fall League

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Brewer Hicklen (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Brewer Hicklen often envisioned himself playing a competitive sport well into the fall months, which he’s doing now in the Arizona Fall League as an outfielder with the Surprise Saguaros.

But the Royals prospect originally thought his autumn competition would be on the football field. A quarterback in high school, Hicklen was a wide receiver at the University of Alabama-Birmingham for close to two seasons, although he never got to play in an actual game since the UAB program was still in the process being reinstated after the program had previously been dropped.

“I was technically with the football team for a year and a half of the three years I was at UAB,” Hicklen said. “I practiced with them every day, but I never had the opportunity to strap it up on a Saturday.”

Hicklen also played on the UAB baseball team, and after a strong redshirt sophomore season the Alabama native was selected in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. While he’s perfectly happy with the direction that his professional career has gone, that football drive still lives inside him.

“I’m a competitor and I work hard,” Hicklen said. “I would love to size myself up against those guys on TV. That’s just the competitor in me that wants to go out there and be able to do that. But at the end of the day, I’m so happy where I am. . . . If I think about that (playing football) and start regretting things, it halts my ability to grow every day.”

The lessons that Hicklen learned in football have carried over into his baseball career, strengths that he doesn’t know whether he’d have otherwise. He cites the ability to dig deep in his heart when necessary to accomplish his goals, something he often had to do on the football field. But even more importantly, the team concept so necessary on the gridiron has made Hicklen a leader wherever he’s played.

“The cool thing about football is that it is a little bit more of a team sport, so you have to rely on your brothers,” Hicklen said. “That’s one of the big things I like to carry into baseball. I like everybody to be on the same page. I like everybody to be supportive of one another. That just shows my leadership ability, and I think that’s something that the Royals value in me. It’s an opportunity for me to bring the guys closer.”

Hicklen’s makeup and leadership on and off the field are appreciated by the Royals, especially in the way he handled being one of the older players at low Class A Lexington and high Class A Wilmington in each of the past two years. Both of those teams won their league championships with Hicklen on the roster in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

“They look up to him like he’s the big brother,” said Alec Zumwalt, the Royals' Director of Hitting Performance/Player Development. “They won the championship . . . a big part because of Brewer’s leadership. You see it come out. You see that football mentality come out in his play. He’s an off the charts-type of kid.”

Hicklen spent the entire 2019 season with Wilmington, using a strong August performance in which he posted a .943 OPS to finish the year with a solid .263/.363/.427 slash line. He hit eight of his 14 home runs during the season's final month—a surge that came after an 0-for-20 stretch toward the end of July. He refused to let that slump define his season, however, and Hicklen credits his work ethic and ability to stick to a consistent plan at the plate for helping him to finish strong. He sums up the lessons he's learned in one word—molding.

“What I mean by that is basically looking at a game, looking at it at-bat by at-bat and pitch by pitch,” Hicklen said. “Each pitch I see is molding me into being a big leaguer in the future. That’s important for me to really digest, because it’s easy to get frustrated when you look at instant results.”

Hicklen credits former big league first baseman Larry Sutton, his Wilmington hitting coach, with instilling that philosophy into him. Another key lesson from Sutton was that a certain number of at-bats are needed before being ready to be a big leaguer, emphasizing the importance of learning from every at-bat to minimize that number of at-bats.

Sutton also drilled into Hicklen three main points to guide his overall plan for the game.

“Be on time, be convicted with what you want and be confident in your conviction,” Hicklen said. “That literally was the three points that I told myself every day, and if I did those three things I put myself in the best chance to succeed. If I didn’t succeed that day, I didn’t consider it failure . . . I considered it a lesson.”

Hicklen’s ongoing learning process is continuing in the Arizona Fall League, and just a week and a half into the season he’s already been able to pick up tips from other player's routines and approaches at the plate. Hicklen admits to be a prolific note taker, having already filled one of his Google Doc files with scads of information from his AFL experience to date.

“It’s just really cool to learn from your peers and to learn from your coaches . . . just come with a humble spirit,” Hicklen said. “If you come in with your pride or ego, or (think) that you have it all figured out, that’s the moment you’re going to start failing.”

While he’s satisfied with his progress to date, Hicklen knows that he’s nowhere near fulfilling his goal of reaching the major leagues, stating, “It’s important to remind myself that I have a long way to go.”

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2019 Arizona Fall League Roster Analysis: Surprise Saguaros

A detailed look at the prospects on this year's Surprise Saguaros, headlined by Daniel Lynch (Royals) and Luis Garcia (Nationals).

NOTES

— Scottsdale catcher Joey Bart (Giants) was named Player of the Week for the first stretch of the AFL season, primarily due to the two home runs he hit on Opening Day followed by another two-hit performance in his second start. Glendale righthander Victor Castaneda (Brewers) was the Pitcher of the Week after pitching four no-hit innings in his first AFL start.

— A new twist to the Arizona Fall League schedule was introduced this week with three teams from the Liga Mexicana del Pacifico playing games against AFL squads. The Hermosillo, Mexicali and Los Mochis teams all saw action this week, although the schedule had to be adjusted with the LMP teams running short on pitching. Additional games against LMP teams will be held next week in conjunction with the annual Mexican Baseball Fiesta in both Mesa and Tucson, with Obregon and Culiacan also squaring off against AFL opponents.

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