As the Cubs offseason continues to unfold, their 2018 coaching staff changes continue to materialize. Just today, it was reported that the team’s new bench coach will be first base coach Brandon Hyde.
But many of the coaching changes have involved new faces. Brett already shared his reaction to the turnover overall, and earlier, we got to know new hitting coach Chili Davis. We are still waiting on an official announcement that pitching coach Jim Hickey is in the fold, but he’s the guy. There’s no actual doubt about that at this point, so I figured it was high time to get to know him a little better, starting with his career as a player.
Unlike the Cubs’ new hitting coach, Hickey didn’t have quite as much professional success as Davis, and never actually made it to the Major Leagues. He was, however, a first-team All-American at the University of Texas-Pan American and was taken by the White Sox in the 13th round of the 1983 draft (Baseball-Reference indicates he was born in Chicago, by the way).
From 1983-1989, Hickey worked his way though the Minor League organizations of the Sox (1983-1987), Dodgers (1988), and Astros (1989) but never made it above Double-A. Eventually, he moved into a new role as a coach in 1996.
That year, he got his first professional gig as the pitching coach for the Astros Double-A affiliate. And one year later, his staff led the Texas League with 939 strikeouts. Sure, it’s not all on the coach, but he may very well have played some part. In 1998, Hickey was promoted to the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate, keeping his same title, and helped lead the New Orleans Zephyrs to a championship season.
The attention and success didn’t end there, though, because in 2002, Hickey was named a coach for the All-Star Futures Game and a member of the coaching staff for the Triple-A All-Star Game. After that season, the Astros named him their Player Development Man of the Year, and he became their interim (and eventually full-time) big-league pitching coach just 1.5 years later. After sticking in that role through 2006, Hickey left the Astros to join Joe Maddon’s new ship in Tampa Bay.
Hickey spent the next seven seasons as Joe Maddon’s pitching coach (2007-2014), and another three under current Rays Manager Kevin Cash. A quick look around the Rays’ internet space will help you see that he’ll be missed in Tampa Bay, as they considered him one of the best in the game.
And why wouldn’t they? Although the front office and player development staff undoubtedly deserves a great deal of credit, too, it’s impossible not to notice the steady stream of success stories for the Rays on the pitching side of things over the past decade.
Hickey, by all accounts, is a well-respected, talented, and clearly successful pitching coach (you kinda have to be to stay in one place for 11 seasons), so the Cubs should consider themselves lucky to have him.
And, hey, if he helps attract his former pupil (and current free agent), Alex Cobb, to Chicago this winter, well, that’d just be icing on the cake. But that’s a story for another time.