Detroit Tigers’ catcher/first baseman John Hicks is having another solid year. What does his future hold in the Motor City?
Despite the painful aspects that a rebuild brings, the Detroit Tigers have also had plenty of pleasant surprises this season. Chief among them has been the play of catcher and first baseman John Hicks, who has stepped into an increased role and produced very well with the stick.
For those of you who are calling this a ‘breakout’ it’s worth pointing out that Hicks did almost exactly this same thing last year. In fact, here is a look at Hicks’ offensive numbers in several key categories:
2017: 6.8% walk rate, 26.8% strikeout rate, .173 ISO, .342 BABIP, .266/.326/.439, .328 wOBA
2018: 6.8% walk rate, 26.7% strikeout rate, .170 ISO, .365 BABIP, .284/.332/.454, .339 wOBA
At 28 years old, it’s safe to say that Hicks is probably performing at his peak level right now. The question then is this: Does Hicks have a future in Detroit? If so, where? If not, what do we do with him?
Hicks is under team control through 2023, his age 33 season. So the Tigers are in no rush to move him, especially with Miguel Cabrera out for the rest of the season. But is Hicks the answer at first base for the future? Probably not. And with a trio of solid catching prospects in Grayson Greiner, Jake Rogers and Sam McMillan, Hicks doesn’t seem likely to take over full-time duties when James McCann is jettisoned.
The Tigers appear to be aiming for a contention window of roughly 2021-2023. That could certainly happen sooner if some of their younger prospects (Isaac Paredes, Daz Cameron, Casey Mize, Alex Faedo, etc.) are ready sooner.
Still, assuming 2021 is the earliest, that puts Hicks in his age-31 season. Even if he’s still performing in the 100-100 wRC+ level, it’s hard to envision him being a starter on a team with playoff aspirations. I’d expect one of Rogers or McMillan to be starting behind the plate, with Greiner in the mix as well.
First base is a little murkier, although many expect that Nicholas Castellanos will have to shift over to first at some point. If Castellanos is starting at first and Rogers is behind the plate, Hicks will either be settling for a backup role or be off the team.
Ultimately, I don’t think Hicks’ trade value is enough for the Tigers to move on from him. Whenever teams go through rebuilding years, there needs to be players who are used basically as roster fillers until the team is ready to compete.
Hicks’ age, positional versatility and clubhouse presence make him the perfect player to hold onto through the rough years. Thinking about the rough Tigers teams of the late-1990’s and early 2000’s, they always had a few veterans who helped get the team through the hard times. Dean Palmer, Shane Halter, Doug Brocail and Luis Polonia come to mind.
Being a fan-favorite during a rebuild may not be every players’ dream, but Hicks should get a chance to play quite a bit in the next few years. The team needs to plug holes while the prospects down on the farm develop, and Hicks is the perfect player to fill that role.
History may not remember players like John Hicks. However, the Detroit Tigers fans who endured this rebuild will.