Jordan Wicks and His Changeup Grip – picture taken by Todd Johnson
When it comes to the 2022 season, I am all about Jordan Wicks. The Cubs’ 2021 first round pick out of Kansas State has just something about him. Once I look past him being a Dallas Cowboys fan, there’s a lot to like and how he goes about his job is numero uno for me.
Over the last two weeks of this 2021 season, I get to see Wicks quite often in Beloit and the Quad Cities. I saw him go about his job on a daily basis. That included weightlifting, his throwing program, and just hanging out and being a teammate. In those few weeks, here are a few things I learned about wicks.
1. He is very serious about his job.
Wicks is all about working hard. Whether that’s physical conditioning, strengthening his shoulder by playing catch with the football, or picking the brains of other pitchers, Wicks is in the moment all the time. He’s always learning and always trying to get better.
For most draft picks, the first few weeks of being a pro is more about getting acclimated to the professional lifestyle of a minor-league baseball player. They get used to the bus ride, the hotels, and staying in the same city for five straight nights. But for Wicks, he used his three weeks with South Bend as an experiment to just try some things. Already armed with a plus-plus change up, Wicks spent most of that time for South Bend trying out some different stuff just to see what would happen. I really like that kind of pragmatism that allows him to try almost anything. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t and you move on and find something that does.
For most college pitchers taken in the draft, their initial few months as pros are a bit iffy because they’ve already pitched a full season. To shut down and then gear back up is not exactly an easy thing. For Wicks, he went into that experience with South Bend as a way to get himself ready for the off-season to make himself better for 2022.
Shortly after signing, the Cubs run their new draft picks through a series of drills and tech in what call the pitch lab in Mesa. What the Cubs are doing is getting baseline data as a reference point to refer back to later at the end of the season or during the off-season.
Wicks told Jordan Bastian of MLB.com that he really appreciated his experience in Mesa because he learned so much about what the tech analysis people look for and relay that to the pitcher as to why that data is important to the player and his performance.
Later in the interview, Wicks detailed just exactly what he’s been working on this off-season and that includes a new curveball grip that he fell into by accident as well as a slider to complement his plus-plus changeup. In addition, it looks like Wicks is going to ditch his two-seam fastball in favor of a four -seamer that has some giddy-up (vertical movement) in the top of the zone.
I was really looking forward to seeing what Wicks was going to come up with this off-season and the article kind of spoiled it for me, but it also made me more excited to see what he can do as a result of said changes this spring and summer.
I thought of three possible scenarios that his 2022 season could take:
Looking at these three choices for Wicks’ 2022 career path, the most realistic one is that he would start the year in South Bend and pitch well there and then go to Tennessee and pitch well there. I’m pretty sure that most people think that is a very safe thing to project. If he has to stay in South Bend for the entire season, something has gone terribly wrong.
If Wicks has a really good year, we could see him possibly getting a bump to Iowa late in the year. Considering that Iowa’s season is a little longer, if he has in outstanding season, Wicks could burn through South Bend and Tennessee and some somehow wind up in Iowa in either late August or September to sort of set himself up to start in Des Moines in 2023. It’s not something that’s out of the question, but a lot of things have to go right, really right, for Wicks to basically play at three levels in one season. We really haven’t seen that from a starting pitcher the past 10 years. We’ve seen a few guys like Dillon Maples and Scott Kobos do it, but to pitch at three levels as a starter would be an amazing development. Jack Patterson pitched at three levels in 2019, but he was a reliever in South Bend, did both at Myrtle Beach, and then started at Tennessee.
As for the third option of making it to Chicago at the end of the year, those odds would have to be less than 5%. Technically, Wicks could be called up to Chicago from Tennessee at any point. He doesn’t necessarily have to go to Iowa to get to Chicago. But if Wicks turns into a dominant pitcher, and the Cubs are either out of it or need a little juice in the rotation, Wicks could be an option. Is it likely to happen? No, not really. Can you dream on it? Sure. But the odds of it happening are very, very slim.
I see the second choice as the one to root for, but the first scenario would the best bet. You never know.
We are sort of at a new juncture here as we really haven’t had a first round pick in the top half of the draft that’s a pitcher in the past 10 years. Sure, we have Brendon Little and Alex Lange, but they were both at the back end of the first round. For Wicks, he was the top lefty on the board and the Cubs chose him more so for his personal characteristics, his mental aptitude, and his adaptability and willingness to change. All those things are traits that a major league pitcher has to have. Wicks has them in spades.
I, for one, am ready for him to get going. It can start any day with a spot appearance with the big league club, even if it is only for an inning.