The Cardinals wondered if he was closer to the majors than planned.
They’ve decided he wasn’t just close — he was ready.
In a stunning 11th-hour change to the roster, the Cardinals will promote Hicks on Wednesday or Thursday morning for the opening day roster. One of the quickest departures from spring training camp will now be an early arrival in the majors, leaping all the way from High-A to Citi Field in a single week. The righthander will take a spot in the Cardinals bullpen.
To make room for him on the active roster, the Cardinals optioned John Brebbia to Class AAA Memphis. The decision was finalized Tuesday afternoon, an official confirmed to The Post-Dispatch.
The front office, coaching staff, and even catcher Yadier Molina had conversations about whether Hicks was ready to leap from High-A to the majors.
“Stuff is stuff,” manager Mike Matheny said.
Hicks, 21, has a fastball that was clocked at 102 mph during spring training, and he throws a fastball at 99 mph that has sink to it. He offsets that pitch with a slider that he can throw for a strike and a changeup that showed greater command and depth this past spring.
The righthander was demoted from big-league camp early because he had failed to be punctual for at least two mandatory team functions. His teammates even took to social media to chide his lateness, and Matheny said no matter what he brought to the mound they couldn’t have rules and let any of the players’ missteps go unnoticed.
The Cardinals still wanted to give Hicks a taste of Grapefruit League play and show the major-league staff what he was capable of doing. He didn’t disappoint. When he was thrust into Sunday’s start in place of Adam Wainwright (hamstring), Hicks pitched four scoreless innings and struck out two. Half of his outs came on groundballs, and he allowed only one baserunner. In 7 2/3 innings this spring for the Cardinals, he struck out eight. On Sunday, showed a mix of 100- and 101-mph fastballs to go with a breaking ball that he can locate inside the strike zone — and sweeping outside of it.
“We’re a talent-based industry,” Matheny said. “When you have a unique talent like that and we have a need in our bullpen, right, we’re trying to figure out how we can use him in that spot. There is opportunity there. How that looks is yet to be determined.”
Hicks will join the team in New York.
To make room for Hicks and backup catcher Francisco Pena on the 40-man roster, the Cardinals will have to make two corresponding moves. They intend to designate a player for assignment, not place Alex Reyes on the 60-day disabled list. Doing that would push Reyes’ return back to May 28, at the earliest. The Cardinals expect him in the majors several weeks before that.
JUPITER, Fla. • There are 32 active pitchers in Cardinals camp, and in the first live batting practice sessions on Tuesday, Luke Voit had the unenviable assignment of facing the guy everyone wanted to see … except a batter.
There’s quite a lot of hype about Jordan Hicks, the triple-digit kid.
“I was like — ‘Dang!’” the Cardinals’ Voit said of the the fastballs he faced, both four-seamers and two-seamers. “I mean, it’s heavy, man. It gets on you. It’s got the spin rate, too, if you want that four seam. So I was impressed. There was a lot of hype about him and from what I heard from last season — and I was impressed, just like everybody else was. …
“Good stuff, man. A lot of potential. Super-heavy. Mid-to-upper 90s. I didn’t realize he had sink on it, too. He got me to roll over. I guess (there’s) more of a slurve I think. Slider. It still kind of pops, you pick it up, it kind of slows down a bit. Potentially still could be a good pitch. Just more of the older guys being able to pick it up a little bit and take advantage of it. But overall, the kid can definitely be an end-of-the-line, (big)-time reliever.”
Can Hicks’ stuff play in the bigs?
“Oh, for sure. It’s just more of him learning his spots,” Voit said. “He doesn’t have his command yet, but that’s something you teach yourself over time. It’s hard, not a lot of guys when they throw that hard know where it’s going. He’s still tough to hit. I was just more impressed with how much sink he had on his fastball. If he can have that with a fastball that can blow you away and (also one that) just gets ground balls, that’s kind of what Carlos (Martinez) is. It’s impressive.”
As Ben Frederickson chronicled this winter, first baseman Voit has been working out also at corner outfield spots.
Here in Jupiter, Voit is down to 245 pounds, looking slimmer and stronger. He said his swing is feeling good — he’s feeling quicker with his hands — and that his core gives him more stability in his legs (“Not being too top-heavy,” he said).
Voit spent some quality time in the days before camp with coach Willie McGee, who played a couple games in the outfield in the majors.
“In the outfield, I’m trying to get my footwork right,” said Voit, who is battling for a roster spot. “It’s more just trying to get reads off the bat, because that’s the best way in my opinion to get the best routes and get the different slices or cuts. Running down balls down the line, just kind of getting your right angles toward it, having to turn around because of the wind, stuff like that. It takes practice, I’ll have to keep working on it. Hopefully Mike (Matheny) will throw me out there a couple times.
“And I’ve got experience in the minors too. It’s not like I’m just coming out there like Matt (Adams) did last year. I’m not going to look like a loose cannon out there. I feel comfortable. I’m not 100 percent confident in it, but that comes with more reps and everything.”