By JAY LeBLANC
July 21, 2008
The main things pro teams look for in a shortstop are the abilities to field and throw. The Atlanta Braves knew they had a player who could perform both of those tasks in 2007 third-round pick Brandon Hicks, who showed good range while playing for Texas A&M and flashed a 90-plus mile per hour heater while doubling as a pitcher in junior college. What they might not have realized was just how much pop the 6’ 2”, 200 pound Hicks had in his bat.
Hicks hit .338 with 10 home runs in 67 games in his lone season with the Aggies, but some scouts questioned whether he’d be able to make the adjustment from metal bats to wood. Hicks answered his critics by hitting .285 with seven home runs last summer while splitting time between the Rookie-league Danville Braves and the Class A Rome Braves. Even more impressive was that Hicks got on base at a .413 clip, in large part because he drew 39 walks to offset his 44 strikeouts. Baseball America took notice and ranked him as Atlanta’s No. 14 prospect during the offseason.
Hicks has found his power stroke in 2008 as a member of the advanced Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The 22-year-old is tied for second in the Carolina League with 15 home runs and was selected to play in the circuit’s All-Star Game and take his cuts in its Home Run Derby in late June. Though he’s not known as a speedster, Hicks has also managed to swipe 12 bases thus far while getting caught just twice. The downside to Hicks’ power explosion is that it has come along with a high strikeout total - 106 in 292 at bats so far this season - and a lower batting average - he’s currently hitting just .240. I recently had a chance to speak with Hicks:
Q: What was your first reaction when you learned you’d been drafted by the Braves? Did you know in advance that they were looking to pick you?
A: Yeah, I talked to them the night before and they were asking me a couple questions, so I kind of had an idea that they might pick me up.
Q: Were you excited it was the Atlanta organization that selected you?
A: Yeah, I was excited. I mean, just getting the opportunity to play baseball at that high of a level, and being with the Braves was also exciting.
Q: You faced solid competition while playing for Texas A&M. How did that help prepare you for your pro career?
A: I thought it was good for me that I went there for a year out of junior college. I thought it helped me out a lot offensively, and to just become an all-around better player.
Q: You recently played in the Carolina League All-Star Game. What was that experience like?
A: I was excited to get the opportunity to play in that game. It was a goal of mine going into the season, and just being able to play with those guys and be in the Home Run Derby and stuff like that was exciting for me.
Q: Could you describe your approach at the plate? Do you come into an at bat looking for a specific pitch, or do you just react to what’s thrown?
A: I go up just looking for the ball to get deep on me; just try to see the ball. I don’t go up looking for a pitch. In certain situations I might do that, but mainly I just go up there and react to whatever comes my way.
Q: Your power numbers have increased this year, but so have your strikeouts. Is that a tradeoff you’re willing to make, or is that something you need to work on?
A: Yeah, it’s something I’ve definitely got to cut down on, strikeouts. I don’t enjoy that at all. It’s part of the game sometimes, but you definitely want to cut that down as much as you can.
Q: What are some of the other things you’re trying to work on this season?
A: I’m just trying to hit doubles, get on base as much as I can and score runs for my team.
Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you’ve tried to model your approach after?
A: I grew up watching Derek Jeter and A-Rod - I like them a whole lot. Derek Jeter was a role model of mine growing up, just watching him play and stuff.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Braves?
A: I’m not sure; as soon as they need me. I mean, I think I’m developing pretty good as a player, but I also have a lot more things I need to work on.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo courtesy of the Bowie Baysox
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies.