Prospect Watch: Brewer Hicklen (OF) is Surging in Wilmington

Brewer Hicklen was selected out of the University of Alabama, Birmingham by the Royals with the 15th pick in the 7th round of the 2017 amateur draft. Originally a two sport athlete in football and baseball, Hicklen never got the opportunity to suit up on the gridiron collegiately given the school’s football program was disbanded. With a potential future in football in question, Hicklen turned his focus to baseball, earning “All-Conference USA Second Team” in his sophomore season, where he lead the team with a .328 average, .586 slugging percentage, 8 bombs and 6 triples. He also lead the conference with 17 steals.

Hicklen is a burly boy, standing 6’2” and weighing in at 208 lbs. He has some real plus power when he squares one up and given his background as a wide receiver, he’s got some crazy straight line sprint speed as well. In his first extended action in 2018, split between Wilmington and Lexington, Hicklen hit .289 with a .507 slugging percentage and OPS of .864. He also mashed 18 long balls and went on to swipe 35 bags, being caught six times, over the course of 104 games. While these are some pretty phenomenal numbers, let’s not forget that Hicklen also really struggled with strikeouts, punching out a whopping 124 times compared to 28 walks. The one thing that really impressed me about Hicklen during the course of this season was his character. Hicklen was originally held back in extended spring training from the start of the 2018 season due to an outfield log jam and thus, struggled out of the gate. Hicklen would then go on to post a strong showing for the 2018 season, and agree to return to Lexington following Seuly Matias’s injury to help capture a South Atlantic League title. As you can see, there was plenty to be excited about for this young man heading into the 2019 campaign.

To kick-off the 2019 campaign, Hicklen was assigned to Wilmington, where he and effectively the entire Blue Rocks offense really struggled out of the gate. In the month of April, Hicklen managed to hit for a measly .204 average, .222 slugging, and hit no home runs. On the positive side, he managed to post a solid .338 OBP to go along with 4 steals. During that 54 AB span, he punched out 20 times and walked 8 times. Following April though, Hicklen was ready to turn the page and prove he’s not one to be slept on. By mid-May, Hicklen had been gradually making improvements. He rounded out the month of May with a .279 average, OBP of .394 and vast improvement in slugging percentage of .442. He also swiped 9 bags, but managed to hit only one home run during that span. During the course of those 86 AB’s, he walked 16 times and struck out 35 times.

But wait, it gets even better. Hicklen rounded out the month of June by hitting .294/ .459/ .412 with an OPS of .871. Over those 85 AB’s, he hit 2 long balls and swiped 14 bags. Even more impressive, Hicklen struck out 26 times and walked 21 times, lowering the previous difference in numbers greatly. Continuing with this theme of dominance, so far in July Hicklen’s triple slash is currently .379/ .400/ .655 with an OPS of 1.055. In 8 games so far this month of July, Hicklen already has one dinger and 3 steals. He also punched out 9 times compared to just one walk, though.

The sample size for July is small, but it is quite evident Brewer Hicklen has been making improvements on a month by month basis. Notably, in each preceding month, he has improved upon his triple slash and his stolen bases. The power hasn’t shown up as much this year, but that could be attributed to Hicklen refining his plate approach to become a more complete hitter and attempt to get on base more. Looking at his batted ball stats, Hicklen’s fly ball numbers are down 4.9% and his ground balls numbers are up 7.8% in comparison to last year. To be quite frank, I’m not overly concerned with his power struggles. As mentioned prior, he has plus raw power, which will likely only increase as he becomes stronger and progresses in his professional career. Plus, we’ve already seen his raw power does translate to game power with the 18 long balls he belted in 2018. One stat from his 2019 season that really impresses me is his vast improvement in walk rate. In 2018 Hicklen walked at only a 6.9% clip while punching out at 28.2% in his extended time in Lexington. So far in 2019 with Wilmington, he has upped his walk rate to 14.6% while his K rate has relatively stayed the same at 28.7%. Obviously you’d like to see him cut down on the strikeout rate as he progresses, but his strong improvements in getting on base have overshadowed that to an extent.

As of right now, Brewer Hicklen is slashing .280/ .406/ .409 and has an OPS of .816. That goes along with just 4 long balls, but he also has 30 steals, good for 2nd best among Class A Advanced hitters. Hicklen is also no slouch on defense. He has fantastic range that would make him a good candidate for center field, but his arm is a bit questionable which could eventually lead to him shifting to left field, where his bat still profiles well. MLB Pipeline currently has Hicklen slotted #15 among Royals prospects, but I can see him debuting in the top 10 as early as next year if he continues his hot hitting ways. The speed is no question, and the vast improvements to his hitting approach should help to bolster his ability to get on base. The power is also there, even though we haven’t seen it as much this year. If Brewer Hicklen can continue along this trajectory while cutting his strikeouts, the Royals may just have a 5-tool stud blossoming in the farm.

Sources: BaseballSavant, Fangraphs, MiLB.com, MLB.com

Photo Credit: Bradford Glazier

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