PEORIA, Ariz. — John Hicks is finally gaining some attention, after four professional seasons with the Mariners, for being more than the guy who caught Danny Hultzen in college.
Or as that guy who once played on the same select team in high school as then-infielder Russell Wilson.
Hicks, 25, showed sufficient potential last season for the Mariners to find space for him in November on their 40-man roster spot to keep him away from other clubs in the Rule 5 Draft.
“He was repeating Double-A,” farm director 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 for the first time this spring, soaking it all in, prior to an almost-certain ticket to Triple-A Tacoma, which is where he ended last season.
“It’s a fun atmosphere,” he 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-conference catcher whom the Mariners selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.
And he was always a dynamic defensive receiver; he has thrown out 48 percent of potential base-stealers as a professional. His bat was the question — particularly when he slumped badly in 2013 at Double-A Jackson.
“The off-season before (last) 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; he was Hicks’ hitting coach in 2012 at High Desert, when Hicks batted .312 with 15 homers and 79 RBIs in hitter-friendly Adelanto, Calif.
“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.”
After compiling a .236/.301/.331 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 2013 at Jackson, 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,” 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. That’s to (the club to) protect you in case we have injuries. Then you move up.
“So, yeah, there’s a chance he could see time in the big leagues this year if there’s an injury.”