Last night the Cubs added Kansas State left-handed pitcher Jordan Wicks to their farm system, taking Wicks with the 21st overall pick. I threw out Wicks as a potential selection way back in March in our first draft preview piece, noting Dan Kantrovitz’s past with polished college southpaws. But this pick was surely not about hitting one specific demographic but instead about Wicks’ skillset specifically.
I want to jump right into the player the Cubs are hoping flies through their minor leagues and joins a rotation by no-later-than 2024.
Body and Delivery: Listed at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Wicks has certainly added weight since his high school days. I comped his body to a younger Jon Lester, with big thighs and a filled out frame. Wicks has put in weight room work to get the velocity up in the last two years, but I think Cubs will still see a little bit of upper body projection remaining.
Wicks’ delivery creates a little bit of deception as he brings his arm straight down, hiding it to the hitter behind his body. He stays closed for a long time due to a bit of cross-fire, which is more pronounced when pitching out of the stretch. I would not be shocked if the Cubs have some mechanical tweaks in mind that they hope might unlock Wicks to the upper end of his velocity range.
.@KStateBSB LHP Jordan Wicks is through two scoreless frames. FB 92-94 with late life and plenty of S/M in the zone. Terrific CH @ 82-84 w/ late bottom action and shown a couple two plane sliders at 85-86. #PGDraft pic.twitter.com/LkmNePrVVl
— PG College Baseball (@PGCollegeBall) April 1, 2021
You’ll see there that Wicks isn’t really using his front leg to brace himself, which then causes him to fall-off towards the third base side. It’s to his credit that he still commands the ball as well as he does. Given his leg strength, I wonder if the Cubs try to add a bit of extension and create more leg block to keep his forward momentum more aligned towards home.
There’s also good news about his shoulder mobility, and while I can’t really speak to that intelligently, I can say it sounds like a good thing in projecting Wicks as an innings eater.
Jordan Wicks is heading to the North Side! The @Cubs get a pitcher who showed the second most scap retraction in our draft group, along with the second most MER. All signs pointing to great shoulder mobility. pic.twitter.com/b2nQf1gxnw
— ProPlayAI (@proplayai) July 12, 2021
This is the first thing you’re going to read about in every draft report on Wicks, and it’s deserved. Wicks throws a two-seam circle changeup, meaning he puts his third and fourth fingers on the seams and creates a tight circle with his thumb and index finger. Wicks absolutely kills the spin on the pitch and achieves late tumbling action with enough fade. He’ll throw it about 10-12 mph below the fastball, generally around about 82 mph.
But it’s the comfort with the pitch that separates it and gives it plus-plus upside. Wicks will throw the pitch to lefties as well as righties, and he’ll throw it as a two-strike pitch in the dirt but also on the outside corner for strike one. I’d actually say that it seemed like the most common gameplan against right-handed hitters was two consecutive changeups on the outside corner before showing the fastball and widening the arsenal.
— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) February 26, 2021
Wicks throws both a sinker and a four-seam fastball. I prefer the four seamer, which has a bit of cutting action and gets some swings and misses that suggest it has good ride (~2400 rpms would generally confirm that).
The changeup is the bread-and-butter, but I think it’s the life on high four seamers that solidified Wicks as a first rounder. He’ll be asked to execute into this location more often in the pros than he needed to in college ball. pic.twitter.com/rkkmzqFIKd
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) July 12, 2021
In the three starts I watched of Wicks’ in 2021, you’ll see him at about 92-94 (T95) early in games, and then maybe dipping to about 91-92 (T94) as the start goes on. His average fastball velocity improved in each collegiate season.
Wicks and the Kansas State coaches seemed to prefer the sinker to the four seamer – I might lean the opposite – and he’d live on throwing the pitch on the arm side corner (away to righties) tunneled off the changeup. It felt anecdotally like the pitch that yielded the most contact, and might well have been to “blame” for the .377 BABIP that Wicks allowed this season. I think his east/west command of the pitch is better than his north/south command, and hugging the bottom of the zone will be important against sinker-loving pro hitters.
Wicks throws both a slider and curveball, though I think the slider is the far more advanced pitch. While the slider will sometimes show some sweeping horizontal action, usually it’s a pitch with pretty simple vertical drop thrown around 85 mph. He threw a couple in his March 19 start that were definitively plus. You’ll see a good one here against Texas, it’s the final pitch thrown in the second video here (the 0:12 mark)
A look at Jordan Wicks' game. pic.twitter.com/5zpgov1WC1
— Matt Clapp (@TheBlogfines) July 12, 2021
I think the question the Cubs will ask is where they can take the pitch if they think about it more as a cutter. You had to know that if I start the scouting report with a Lester comp, I’m going to dream of Wicks jamming a right-handed hitter with cutters down the road. It’s almost certainly something that Wicks and Craig Breslow discussed at some point in the draft process.
I think you’ll also see the Cubs take Wicks into the Pitch Lab and attempt to rebuild his curveball. It’s a passable fourth offering right now, generally he’s looking to backdoor it and get an early count strike. It’s about 78-81 mph but just doesn’t have quite enough depth to be the multi-plane eye-level changer offering that he needs it to be. I think we’ll be hearing about a pitch grip change here down the line.
The Cubs scouting department believes very strongly in weighing make-up very heavily into their draft rankings, and Wicks comes off like a good fit for the organization. He describes himself in many different interviews as ultra competitive, and you can see the fire he pitches with in almost every start.
Jordan Wicks said his HS coaches were huge Cubs fans so because of them, he watched a lot of Cubs games and followed them in 2016 etc.
"I'm going to go in there and we're not going to wait that long (108 years). We're going to get after it and get back to that WS."
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) July 12, 2021
I highly recommend watching this interview that Prospects Live had with Jordan Wicks last November, as well. I would bet the Cubs see some opportunity for Wicks to take off when exposed to more of their statistical analysis, but love the way he approaches the game right now.
While Wicks is still technically just a sophomore (due to COVID creating an extra season of eligibility), he will turn 22 in about 6 weeks and is old for his junior class. I think it’s a fair expectation that he’s going to sign and I’d be willing to bet it’s within a stone’s throw of the full slot.
Without the short-season Northwest League, it will be interesting to see if the Cubs have Wicks make an appearance in minor league baseball outside of Arizona in 2021. I think after he signs he’ll work out of Arizona for a few weeks, and perhaps make a couple 2-3 inning appearances with Myrtle Beach in September. I think Wicks will probably start in High-A next year with the hope that he quickly forces his way to Tennessee, but don’t be shocked if it’s straight to Tennessee out of Spring Training. From there, you dictate your own ETA, but I think 2023 is a fair hope.
I’m a bit loath to rank new draftees, but since we just organized the top 15, I guess I’ll offer that I’d currently put Jordan Wicks in the sixth spot. I think anything from four to nine is appropriate, honestly. But it’s good to have a starting pitching prospect that feels like a true-blue starting pitcher, and it’s pretty easy to project him as a middle-rotation starter in Wrigley before long.