An outcome we’ve been expecting for at least the better part of a year became a reality Sunday when the Chicago Cubs made Jordan Wicks the only first-round MLB draft pick in Kansas State history.
The school’s career strikeout leader with 230 in just 34 games went 21st overall as the first Big 12 player off the board. He was also the second left-handed drafted, only because Kansas City inexplicably took some guy no one had going until much later.
Wicks easily surpassed K-State’s previous best draft pick, outfielder Jack Woolsey, who was selected 42nd overall in the second round
shortstop Carter Jurica, who was selected 105th overall in the third round by the San Francisco Giants in 2010 1969.
Wicks throws two types of fastballs — a two-seamer and a four-seamer — along with a decent slider and curveball, but what scouts love most is a changeup that just might be the best in this year’s draft class. The low-80s pitch “looks like a fastball out of his hand but features tumbling action that allows it to fall out of the strike zone,” according to Baseball Prospect Journal’s Dan Zielinski and it’s been fooling Big 12 hitters consistently for 3 years.
Although he got little big league attention after a stellar high school career in Conway, Ark., it became clear very quickly Wicks wouldn’t be staying in Manhattan beyond the required three years when he earned Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors thanks to a 3.61 ERA and 86 strikeouts compared to just 26 walks. That broke the K-State freshman record for strikeouts and he also set a new freshman mark by throwing 84.2 innings pitched.
Undoubtedly the most disappointing part of Wicks’ phenomenal career as a Wildcat is that we didn’t get to see him for three full seasons. But he made the most of a Covid-shortened sophomore season, posting a phenomenal 0.35 ERA and striking out 26 in 26 innings, including a 24.2 inning scoreless streak to start the season.
Just in case that wasn’t enough to make MLB scouts fall in love, Wicks found a place to play for the summer and dominated some more. D1 Baseball named the southpaw its Summer Breakout Prospect Award winner after he went 3-0 with a 0.52 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 34.2 innings of work in four starts each for the Rockford (Illinois) Rivets and Perfect Timing Red in Arkansas.
An outstanding performance against Oregon State opened Wicks’ final season at Kansas State, as he struck out 10 in seven scoreless innings. The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association recognized that performance by naming Wicks its National Player of the Week, and he picked up Big 12 Player of the Week honors as well.
Although he would eventually give up some runs and even had some ugly outings, his ability to strike out hitters stayed remarkably consistent. He also walked only 28 batters in 92.1 innings, demonstrating a mastery of the art of pitching that should serve him well at the professional level.
Four double-digit strikeout games and another five with at least eight strikeouts helped Wicks shatter the old K-State single season record of 100, held by former Cincinnati Reds pitcher AJ Morris. Wicks finished with 118, good for second in the Big 12.
He also represented Kansas State well off the field, making the Big 12’s All-Rookie All-Academic team in 2019 and First Team Academic All-Big 12 in his final two seasons. Everyone in Manhattan seems to rave about Wicks’ preparation and work ethic, which combine with his experience to make him one of draft’s most polished prospects.
That should allow him to skip Rookie Ball in Arizona and go straight to Low-A Myrtle Beach, if not High A in Peoria. In case you’re wondering, their AA team is in Kodak, Tenn. and the AAA team plays in Des Moines (we may have to re-assess whether it’s real if he makes a stop there).
For a lot of reasons, many of which are out of his control, Wicks probably won’t pitch in the World Series like TCU’s Brandon Finnegan did for the 2014. But it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Wicks rise quickly through the minors and make his debut for the Cubs as early as next season.