Seattle Mariners

Mariners catcher John Hicks is likely Tacoma-bound but gaining attention

After four professional seasons, John Hicks is finally gaining some attention for being more than the guy who caught Danny Hultzen in college.

Or as that guy who once played on the same select baseball team in high school as then-infielder and current Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Hicks, 25, showed sufficient potential this past season for the Mariners to find space for him on the 40-man roster in November to keep him away from other clubs in the Rule 5 Draft.

“He was repeating Double-A,” director of player development Chris Gwynn said, “and his issues were balance at the plate. Somehow, he just started to figure it out. He’s always had the ability to throw guys out.”

So Hicks is in big league camp soaking it all in for the first time this spring, prior to an almost-certain ticket to Triple-A Tacoma, which is where he ended last season.

“It’s a fun atmosphere,” Hicks said. “Just sitting here talking to (John) Baker, talking to Zee and Suke (Mike Zunino and Jesus Sucre) about the pitchers. Those guys have caught them a little more than I have. It’s fun.”

Hicks was always more than Hultzen’s catcher at Virginia; he was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference catcher whom the Mariners selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.

He was also a dynamic, defensive catcher, throwing out 48 percent of potential base-stealers as a professional. His bat was the question — particularly when he slumped badly at Double-A Jackson in 2013.

“The offseason before (this past) season,” Hicks said, “I came back out (to Peoria) for the co-op league. I worked a lot with Lee May (Jr.), the hitting coordinator, and Roy Howell, who ended up being the Triple-A manager.”

Howell knew Hicks’ swing well as he was Hicks’ hitting coach at Advanced-A High Desert in 2012, when Hicks batted .312 with 15 homers and 79 RBIs at the hitter-friendly park in Adelanto, California.

“Just fine-tuned some things,” Hicks said. “I’d had a leg kick. I had a few stances that kind of had my body moving all over. So I quieted it down and got into my legs a little more.”

The result:

After compiling a .236/.301/.331 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) at Jackson in 2013, Hicks went .296/.362/.418 last season in 53 games and got promoted to Tacoma.

“I just concentrated on getting inside the ball and working the right-center gap,” he said. “When I had the leg kick, I was trying to do too much — lift the ball and try to be someone I’m really not. I’m more of a gap guy.

“I’m not a guy who is going to launch 40 home runs.”

Those adjustments turned Hicks into a legitimate prospect.

“He’s a catcher who has the ability to do a lot of things,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “His bat plays. He’s got a bright future. He’ll probably see significant playing time this spring.”

And while Hicks figures to open the season with the Rainiers, the big leagues are just a call and a short ride away.

“Listen, you’re on the 40-man roster,” McClendon said. “You’re on that roster for a reason. ...

So, yeah, there’s a chance he could see time in the big leagues this year if there’s an injury.”

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