The junior from Chicago outlines his conversion from catcher. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
IOWA CITY, Ia. – The not-so-secret wild card on this year's Iowa baseball team is a 6-foot-5, 210-pound Chicago native with a cannon of an arm.
The catch is, Blake Hickman is going into his first full year as a pitcher — although he's hardly an unknown commodity. He's already being discussed as a high-upside prospect in the Major League Baseball draft in June.
"I try not to pay attention to it. It's pretty awesome that I'm in the talk for it," said Hickman, who started his Iowa career as a catcher. "I try not to focus on it, and just focus on this year and bringing us a Big Ten championship."
Hickman, 21, turned heads in the Cape Cod summer league with his 96 mph fastball. MLB.com draft expert Jim Callis rated Hickman as one of the prestigious league's top 10 pitching prospects.
Coach Rick Heller has encouraged his adding of a third pitch, the change-up, to his arsenal.
A year ago, when Hickman made the conversion to the mound, he struggled with his control but showed the gas, too — striking out 34 in 342/3 innings but walking 23. Now?
"Much more polished. Much more mature. Better command of all of his pitches," Heller said. "Secondary stuff, a lot better. Really useable change-up that I think could be a devastating pitch for him."
Hickman was drafted in the 20th round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs as a hitting prospect. Now his pitching upside is so great, Heller is comfortable moving Hickman into a starting role for the Hawkeyes.
"(Last year), I saw myself as a thrower. All you want to do is blow up the radar gun and blow it past guys," Hickman said. "Now that I'm a starter, I can't do that every single pitch because it won't last."