Fun with Jordan Wicks’ Incredible Debut: Results, Historical Context, Quotes, More

Last night, 2021 first round pick Jordan Wicks made his big league debut for the Chicago Cubs. Thanks to Marcus Stroman’s rib cage injury and Drew Smyly’s struggles, it was a debut born as much of necessity as readiness. But you couldn’t watch that start and not believe that Wicks was ready.

It was a mediocre-to-bad Pittsburgh Pirates team, sure, but it was also on the road, in a national broadcast, in late-August of a pennant race. If Wicks was going to feel the pressure of the moment in his big league debut, it was definitely going to be last night, ESPECIALLY after he went homer-rocket single-walk to open the game.

And yet he follow that rocky beginning, and a well-timed Tommy Hottovy mound visit, by allowing exactly NOTHING for 15 straight batters. He struck out nine, leaving Pirates hitters befuddled along the way.

  • In total, it was a beautiful start by the slash line: 5.0 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 9 K. The under-the-hood stuff was also fantastic, including 13 whiffs out of his 80 pitches, a 36% CSW, pitch velocities and spin rates that checked in at his normal ranges, and mostly crappy contact.
  • From Wicks (Cubs.com): “That was the big message today that I heard: Stick to what you do. They told me, and they just reminded me over and over again: ‘What you do is good enough. It’s why you’re here.’ And so that was a real calming message for me.”
  • From David Ross (Sun-Times): “He wouldn’t be up here if we thought he wasn’t ready for the moment. That’s what that entails just believing in yourself, being confident in yourself and knowing what you can do on that stage. He never wavered …. It’s just such an exciting day for us, him, the organization. When you see a young man put in the work, have all the hype and get to make his debut in this kind of pennant race, just a really, really cool moment for where we’re headed.”
  • From pitching coach Tommy Hottovy (Tribune): “It’s not surprising that he climbed pretty quickly. I just see a guy who’s a competitor and who’ll go out there and give you everything he’s got for as long as you leave him out there. What he does really well is he knows who he is and he’s willing to take information, he’s willing to listen to the coaches and the organization about things we want to help to make him better, but he also knows what his core is as as a pitcher. … He’s very pointed about, like, I know what I do well, I know what I need to work on, how can we piece that all together without getting caught up in trying to make all these drastic changes?”
  • The Tommy Hottovy mound visit that kept Wicks calm and let him just eat:
  • Bonus props to Wicks for rocking the stylish off-the-field frames, in addition to his black-rimmed mound glasses.
  • Yes, Wicks leaned heavily on his nasty changeup, but he threw all six of his pitches in the game: 27 changeups, 19 four-seamers, 14 sinkers, 11 cutters, 7 curveballs, and 2 sliders. My guess is that, as his career goes on, you see that streamlined a bit … but maybe not? They all look like useable pitches, and if having them all in his arsenal doesn’t take away from keeping the best pitches sharp, then why not stay diverse? It helps you in an individual game if you have them all (batters have an even harder time eliminating pitches and trying to focus on one), and it also helps you on days when you don’t have a feel for a couple of them.
  • Wicks’ back had to hurt after getting an aggressive, post-win hug from Adbert Alzolay:
  • Among the historical notes about the start, in addition to the one about 9+ strikeouts in a debut:
  • Back to the 9+ strikeouts in a debut, though. Obviously the name you recognize is Mark Prior, and there were some suggestions on the broadcast that Wicks was the most exciting Cubs pitching draft pick debut since Prior back in 2002 against the Pirates. For a moment I thought that had to be hyperbole, but they might be right? Guys who come to mind as drafted big-time Cubs pitching prospects – top-100 types, for example – from the last 20 years, who actually came up to debut with the Cubs, would include Jeff Samardzija and Andrew Cashner, but they both debuted as relievers. And Justin Steele, for example, never rated out as a top-100 type prospect (and also first came up as a reliever).
  • So is that really it since Mark Prior? I knew Wicks was the first first round pitcher to make a debut start for the Cubs since Prior, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that maybe some other well-regarded Cubs starting pitching prospect coming out of the draft would’ve debuted at some point in the last two decades. I don’t want to take away from Wicks, because he *is* a legit pitching prospect of a caliber that doesn’t come around all the time. But the Cubs haven’t had a fully homegrown drafted pitching prospect of his stature make a debut since 2002?! That’s wild.
  • Also, Wicks’ debut actually rated out slightly better than Prior’s by Game Score, 65 to 62. That’s kinda fun.
  • And speaking of all that prospecting stuff, here’s a last thought: IMO all the top prospect lists should quickly be updated to include Jordan Wicks in the top-100 juuuuuust in case he is on the Opening Day roster next year and then goes on to win Rookie of the Year (the Cubs would get a Prospect Promotion Incentive draft pick in that case).
  • written by

    Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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