Move over, Aroldis Chapman.
The MLB has a new velocity king, and his name is Jordan Hicks. Hicks, a 21-year-old relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, has unleashed six pitches of at least 103 mph so far this season. Chapman has thrown one. On Sunday, Hicks threw a 105.1 mph pitch and a 105 mph pitch in the same game. The former tied Chapman for the fastest pitch ever recorded in Major League Baseball.
Hicks, who currently sports a 2.05 ERA, ended last season in high A ball. After wowing Cardinals' coaches with his supersonic velocity during spring training, he earned a spot on the opening day roster. Hicks' rather pedestrian size—he's listed at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds—makes his scorching velocity all the more enchanting. How is an average-looking dude throwing these cowhide howitzers?
Growing up in Texas, Hicks participated in a variety of sports. In addition to baseball, he was particularly partial to soccer and football. His foot speed made him a standout player in those sports, but a leg injury led him to focus solely on baseball at age 15. Ralph Garr Jr., the scout who signed Hicks, believed his background as a multi-sport athlete was evident in his smooth delivery.
"We always talk about hand-eye coordination, but he had a lot of foot-eye coordination," Garr told MLB.com. "Legs are a key part of any pitcher's success, but in Jordan, you can see the symmetry of his legs and the rest of his body more evidently."
That same article references a young Hicks throwing softballs with his dad to improve his arm strength. Considering a softball weighs between 6.25 and 7 ounces while a baseball weighs between 5 and 5.25 ounces, Hicks was engaging in a sort of weighted ball training. Just prior to Hicks' 17th birthday, Perfect Game clocked his fast ball at 87 mph. Fifteen months later, that number had jumped up to 93 miles per hour. Hicks was also diagnosed with type-I diabetes during high school, an ailment which initially caused him to lose about 35 pounds. Once he got it diagnosed and placed on the right diet and exercise regimen, his muscle mass—and velocity—skyrocketed.
Last season, as a member of the Peoria Chiefs (the class A affiliate of the Cardinals), Hicks touched 100 mph on multiple occasions. Chiefs manager Chris Swauger told the Sporting News he saw a pitcher who was "extremely athletic." But how did Hicks jump from flirting with 100 to hurling 105 in a single offseason?
"The velocity is a gift, (but) it's something he's also worked hard on. I want to tell you—he's been as diligent as anybody we have about staying on an arm program and working in the weight room," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny recently told reporters. Hicks was also quoted as saying he saw his velocity tick up last season when he went to a "more fluid" delivery, so it's fair to assume he's continued perfecting that approach.
But can Hicks' body really hold up to the stress of delivering 105 mph pitches for the foreseeable future? The fact that he only began specializing in baseball after he was already in high school may give him a better shot at staying off the disabled list. According to a 2017 study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, there is an "increased incidence of serious injuries in professional baseball players who specialized in baseball prior to high school."
The scariest part of it all is that Hicks may have more velocity in him. He's still just 21 years old, and his body should continue to mature and add muscle mass as long he sticks with his program.
Photo Credit: Scott Kane/Getty Images