Jordan Hicks’ Velocity Places Him In Rarefied Air

One of the first cuts of spring training was the last addition to the Opening Day roster.

In a stunning switchback that altered the look of their bullpen and illustrated the power of Jordan Hicks’ fastball, the Cardinals decided, on the eve of the season, to promote the 21-year-old righthander to the big leagues. This came less than five weeks after Hicks had been demoted for not being punctual for team meetings.

Hicks turned a start he wasn’t supposed to make into a conversation the Cardinals didn’t expect to have. The temptation of his sinking 102 mph fastball was too much to ignore.

“Stuff is stuff,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.

A 2015 supplemental third-round pick out of a Houston high school, Hicks gained notoriety after the 2016 season because other teams were trying to loop him into trade proposals. The athletic, 6-foot-2 starter with a shooting guard’s build flashed an elite fastball, easy mechanics and movement as a starter in short-season ball.

He also threw a changeup and a breaking ball that he could use effectively. Last offseason, the Cardinals purposefully avoided long-term commitments to a closer because they felt Hicks was on the horizon as the in-house answer to their ninth-inning need—eventually.

Eventually arrived sooner than expected.

After his demotion, Hicks had a start on the back fields where he hit 102 mph with his second or third pitch. A scout with an American League team saw him throw seven consecutive fastballs at 100 or faster. Each had sink. He threw 11 of his 14 offspeed pitches for strikes. The Cardinals gave him a cameo late in spring—and when Adam Wainwright missed a start, Hicks was available.

He buzzed through the Nationals’ lineup, and the Cardinals were forced to reconsider their roster. They see Hicks as a late-inning neutralizer, targeted for now at the middle of opposing lineups. A dozen games into the season, the eight fastest pitches thrown in the majors belonged to Hicks. Each one was a sinker at 100.8 mph or swifter.

“It’s just rarefied air the kind of arm he has,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. “In an era of big velocity and big horsepower, he is still in that half of half of half of half of half of one percent of people on Earth who can do this.”

>> In order to make room on the 40-man roster for free agent closer Greg Holland, the Cardinals moved Alex Reyes (Tommy John surgery) to the 60-day disabled list, pushing back his return by as much as three weeks. He will be eligible to start a rehab assignment in late April and can join the big league roster on May 28 at the earliest.

>> The Cardinals’ roster dance also meant flipping Josh Lucas and Breyvic Valera for players at lower levels after designating the pair for assignment. The Cardinals dealt reliever Lucas to the Athletics for starter Casey Meisner, a 22-year-old Double-A righthander. The Dodgers acquired Valera for high Class A center fielder Johan Mieses, also 22.

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