JONESBORO — Liam Hicks is keeping expectations to a minimum as he awaits the Major League Baseball Draft.
“I’m trying to not get my hopes too high,” said Hicks, Arkansas State’s junior catcher. “If the expectations are low, then anything that exceeds them, I’ll be pretty happy about. I’m just going into it hoping I get an opportunity.”
ASU head coach Tommy Raffo is optimistic Hicks, the Red Wolves’ leading hitter, will receive that opportunity even with the draft limited to 20 rounds. The draft begins Sunday and runs through Tuesday.
Hicks has had pre-draft workouts with three teams and contact with several others.
“You never know with the draft, what people think. It only takes one of 30 teams to really like you, and that’s a big deal,” Raffo said. “He’s gone to some pre-draft workouts in the last couple of weeks, so obviously there are some teams that are very interested in him to request an invite to see him again. I think he’s the one that at some point in time we hope to hear his name called.”
Hicks, who is headed home to Toronto to follow the draft, had pre-draft workouts with the Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals. He worked out for the Cardinals in St. Louis, while he went to Texas to work out for the Reds and to Mississippi to work out for the Mets.
Feedback about the draft from scouts was limited, he said.
“They really didn’t say too much. I really don’t know what to expect going into the draft,” Hicks said. “They don’t say too much, just try to make small talk with you, ask about the season, ask about some hitting stuff, approach, but they don’t talk too much about the draft, just like hopefully we’ll be in touch later.”
Hicks led the Red Wolves and finished third in the Sun Belt Conference with a .344 batting average. He led the league in on base percentage (.464) and was fifth in slugging percentage (.548).
Among the league’s top 10 hitters in batting average, Hicks drew the most walks (28) and had the second-fewest strikeouts (18).
“In my opinion he’s a professional hitter because he has the ability to barrel a baseball at a very consistent rate and he has the ability to evaluate the baseball at a very consistent rate,” Raffo said. “There’s really no pitching that bothers him and it’s pretty evident with the season he had. Also, too, when you start to look at his numbers, his metrics, the walk-to-strikeout ratio is outstanding and the ability to use all parts of the field.
“There’s a lot of things there that a pro scout would like. There’s not a lot of swing-and-miss in his swing and you add the fact that he’s left-handed, you add the fact that he’s a catcher. That’s a pretty good combination for professional baseball.”
Hicks also played other infield positions for the Red Wolves, indicating versatility, and every team at every level needs multiple catchers.
“There are so many positives in his corner,” Raffo said. “I think the one thing that may be a knock against him is he doesn’t run well, but in my mind that even adds more credibility to what he did at the plate this year. Everything is legit, everything is clean. He’s finding a lot of green grass with his base hits.”
A hamstring injury forced Hicks to miss eight of ASU’s 49 games this year, but he said his leg is fine now.
Hicks reached base in 54 of 56 career games with the Red Wolves. His batting average was hovering near .400 before dropping in the last few weeks of the season.
“I take a lot of pride in swinging at good pitches. I try to make sure I’m swinging at pitches in the zone that I know I can hit,” Hicks said. “My mindset is really just to hit it hard and use the big part of the field by trying not to get too pull happy and yank balls, because that’s when I’m pulling off and grounding out. I try to stay up the middle with line drives. Also, at the Tom, it’s hard to hit balls out, so you need to have a good approach and try and hit line drives there.”
While Hicks has another year of college eligibility, Raffo said Hicks would probably be highly sought as a free agent if he is not chosen in the draft.
Hicks is eager for an opportunity in the minor leagues.
“I can’t imagine a better job than playing baseball,” he said. “I know it’s tough. You have to play every day, you have long road trips and you don’t get to eat great and everything like that, but to me, that seems great. I like playing every day. That doesn’t sound like a bad job to me.”