By Rob Rains
Most of the time, Sam Carel would be upset to lose the closer from his first-place team with just a little more than a week left in the season.
But when the coach of the Morehead City Marlins in the Coastal Plain League found out Tuesday why his closer, Matt Hickey, was leaving, he had a different reaction.
As a St. Louis resident, who also is the coach at St. Mary’s High School during the school year, knowing Hickey was leaving his team because he was selected by the Cardinals on day three of the MLB Draft was “a good trade.”
“If they’ve got him closing here in a few years that would be fine, watching him at Busch Stadium,” Carel said.
Hickey used his performance for the Marlins in North Carolina this summer to improve his draft status after pitching this spring at Tarleton State in his home state of Texas. Hickey, picked in the 15th round, previously pitched for four seasons at Weatherford College.
“I didn’t know exactly what to expect,” Hickey said. “I’ve had some scouts reach out this summer from four or five teams.”
Hickey actually missed the call from the Cardinals because he was on the field, where Morehead City was getting ready for a game against Wilmington.
“I called them right back.” he said.
In 19 games this summer, covering 24 1/3 innings, Hickey only allowed nine hits and three earned runs, striking out 36 and issuing 12 walks. He was 3-0 with six saves and a 1.11 ERA.
Part of his success comes from Hickey’s ability to throw from a variety of arm angles, including sidearm and an over-the-top delivery.
“I’ve probably been throwing sidearm for about four years now,” Hickey said. “I had some arm troubles before so they told me I might like to try it. It felt better on my arm. I thought I might be able to throw a little harder over the top so I randomly have kind of been going with that.”
Hickey will sometimes use both arm angles during the same at-bat.
“With my sidearm delivery I have pretty good movement on my pitches,” he said. “Over the top it’s a little harder and from a different angle. It depends on the count, the situation, what me and the catcher are feeling at that time.”
Carel has watched how the variety can confuse hitters.
“He throws with some velocity, but the movement on his ball and the different look he can give hitters, that’s just rare to see,” Carel said. “He can throw from down below and then come back over the top.
“In a game the other night he was pitching with different slots and the last strike of the game he came over the top and spotted up at 97. It’s fun to watch. You just don’t see guys like that.
“He’s a smaller guy with a little body and you just don’t see guys throwing from different slots with that kind of velocity. … He had a lot of swings and misses.”
Randy Flores, the Cardinals assistant general manager and scouting director, admitted that Hickey offered the kind of “unique” ability that appealed to the organization at that point in the draft.
“Anything different presents a challenge for hitters,” Flores said. “Whether that’s sidearm or submarine or tall and lanky. Sometimes you’re betting on uncertainty; what could this guy be?
“You’re looking for conviction and for a separator. When you have someone who seems to find something different lately, I think that is very intriguing. One hundred percent. He will throw at normal angles, he will throw submarine and will mix it up and his velocity kind of increased as this season went on.
“It was a very unique way of succeeding that we were intrigued with.”
Hickey said Carel has told him all about St. Louis and the Cardinals.
“This is the reason I’m playing baseball, to try to play at the next level,” Hickey said.
Hickey was one of nine righthanded pitchers selected in the 20-rounds by the Cardinals, eight from the college ranks. The Cardinals also drafted four lefthanders.
If there was a connecting thread to their pitching selections, it was their high strikeout to walk ratio, and that included Hickey. During his college season this spring, he had 40 strikeouts in 32 innings while walking seven.
“It kind of ran the gamut, but I think the big thing there is we were OK going into guys who looked like they were relievers in the future and with that came various types of profiles,” Flores said.
The Cardinals’ only high school selection, Gavin Van Kempen, came in the final round. He is committed to the University of West Virginia, and whether or not the Cardinals can sign him will be determined in part by how much money they have remaining in their bonus pool after signing their other draft picks.
Among their 20 picks were four outfielders, two shortstops and a catcher. The team also is expected to sign several free agents who went undrafted.
Here is the complete list of the day three selections by the Cardinals:
Round 11, Nathan Church, OF, California-Irvine
Round 12, Michael Curialle, SS, UCLA
Round 13, Chandler Arnold, RHP, Dallas Baptist
Round 14, D.J. Carpenter, RHP, Oregon State
Round 15, Matt Hickey, RHP, Tarleton State (Texas)
Round 16, Hunter Hayes, RHP, Pacific U.
Round 17, Brody Moore, SS, Auburn
Round 18, John Lynch, LHP, Xavier U. (Ohio)
Round 19, Chris Rotondo, OF, Villanova
Round 20, Gavin Van Kempen, RHP, Maple Hills HS (NY)
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo of Matt Hickey courtesy of Tarleton State Athletics