A few weeks ago, the White Sox didn’t expect their local protege to make it to pick No. 112, let alone the seventh round.
But after Iowa pitcher Blake Hickman’s velocity dropped and he was roughed up a bit last month, the Simeon graduate and South Side native slipped to the White Sox with pick No. 202 in Tuesday’s MLB Draft.
Thanks to the work of scout J.J. Lally and a longstanding relationship with Hickman, who participated in the White Sox Amateur City Elite program growing up, the organization not only drafted the 6-foot-5 right-hander but also is hopeful he can turn into a solid prospect.
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“We’re excited about him,” assistant scouting director Nick Hostetler said. “We think there is a huge projection there. The ACE part of it and him being a local kid was kind of a bonus for us. … We’ve known him forever and when we made the call when he was our pick it sounded like — you would never know he fell somewhat in the draft with his reaction. He was so excited to be here.”
Hickman is a natural catcher/first baseman who transitioned to full-time pitching in 2014, his sophomore year at Iowa. He posted a 3.26 ERA with 86 strikeouts and 65 walks over 118 2/3 collegiate innings (21 starts, 12 relief appearances).
The White Sox see his progress being keyed by the development of his curveball to pair with a fastball Hostetler said has been clocked between 91 and 97 miles per hour.
“The curveball, the breaking ball just has to get tighter, better, and it’s going to happen with time,” Hostetler said. “He’s a young kid and you almost have to treat him like a high school kid as a pitcher because he hasn’t pitched much. The upside is tremendous with his body and arm strength and whatnot. There is a chance that if his curveball comes, he has a chance to be special.”
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Hickman, who played in the White Sox Double Duty Classic every year from 2008-2011, is the first ACE player to be picked in the first 10 rounds of the MLB Draft. He was drafted by the Cubs in the 20th round out of high school, but that was as a catcher.
As a pitcher, the White Sox like his raw stuff and his makeup. And there’s a hope that someday he could become a true success story, from Englewood to the majors at U.S. Cellular Field.
“He’s a tough kid and a smart kid,” Hostetler said. “When we made the call, ‘Hey Blake, this is the time for you,’ you could tell this is where he wants to be. So it’s exciting for us.”