It was just another night at the ballpark on March 10, 2020, as Kansas State completed a 10-0 win over South Dakota State. The 2019 Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, sophomore Jordan Wicks, was slated to take the mound in the finale of the weekend series with Eastern Michigan later that week — when in an instant, the season came to a sudden halt.
Because of the canceled 2020 baseball season, players had only a few in-game outings, which halted much-needed progression. It was imperative that players gained experience in the summer.
“Our guys needed to pitch,” K-State head coach Pete Hughes said. “They didn’t throw enough innings for their development and needed to get better, too.”
There were limited options for summer amateur leagues. Wicks started the summer in his home state of Arkansas in the Perfect Timing College League before competing in the Northwoods League in Illinois.
“Working [pitching] in a game setting is completely different than working on it in a bullpen or playing catch,” Wicks said. “It was important to get those things game-tested and refine them heading into the fall.”
Despite some of the obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic caused, the summer season flowed smoothly, with few challenges for the players to overcome.
“The league took some precautions in making sure that we stayed away from it, but we treated it like normal summer baseball, and we were fine as players,” Wicks said.
Wicks posted a league-best 0.61 ERA in four starts with the Perfect Timing Red. He went 1-0 with 23 strikeouts and only allowed one run across 14 2/3 innings.
The eventual 2020 D1Baseball Summer Breakout Prospect Award Winner continued his dominance in Northwoods League, going 2-0 in four starts with a 0.45 ERA in 20 innings pitched with 29 strikeouts.
The slider pitch showed the most significant improvement for Wicks over the summer.
“The slider started coming along, and I started to see some flashes to what it is now,” Wicks said. “It wasn’t until the fall where I saw the potential of it, and now in the season, we are starting to see more consistency with it.”
Wicks also improved his curveball over the summer in an environment where it is easier to test pitches outside of the high stakes conference matchups.
“Summer ball gives you the opportunity to work on things that you wouldn’t normally be able to work on in a Big 12 season,” Wicks said. “It gives you the ability to test things.”
One of the biggest takeaways for Wicks through the summer was the excitement of playing baseball as a career.
“I learned about baseball being a job and showing up to the field every day is pretty awesome,” Wicks said. “You get to show up to the field, and that’s the only thing that you have to do. There is not a whole lot better than that.”
Today, fans can see Wicks tossing a football on the field during pregame, something he also picked up over the summer. He might not be competing for the quarterback position for the Wildcats but he is trying to keep his arm active.
“A football does a really good job of warming up your arm,” Wicks said. “It’s a different weight, size and you throw it differently, so I think of it as a way of staying athletic with my arm.”
In his return to Manhattan, the refinement of his pitches matched with his intensity and excitement to be back after the lost season on the field.
“I was excited coming back to Manhattan,” Wicks said. “I knew the slider was looking really good, and I was excited to try it on some of our hitters who knew me really well.”
That same competitive attitude he expressed continued to resonate in the fall.
“He’s been hungry since the day he stepped on campus, since the day I recruited him at Oklahoma,” Hughes said. “He’s just wired differently. He’s always hungry and looking to get to a different level looking to win and be a good teammate. Those guys usually have really long careers.”
Wicks was able to use his new pitches to dominate his teammates in the fall, including sophomore outfielder Dylan Phillips, the current statistical leader of the K-State offense.
“He had a very good breaking ball,” Phillips said. “He always had the same competitor attitude every time he goes out there, that is just who he is.”
Wicks’ preparation has also helped him succeed.
“I know Wicks goes over the scouting report a lot to make sure what he wants to throw and what he is comfortable throwing,” senior catcher Chris Ceballos said. “I’ll throw my two cents in every once in a whole, but for the most part, it’s him and Coach [Buck] Taylor.”
With 84 strikeouts on the season, Wicks ranks eighth in Division I baseball in that category. In his last outing against West Virginia, Wicks struck out 11 in that game, passing his previous career-high of 10, which he has hit four separate times.
“It was nice to get that extra one,” Wicks said. “It is not something that I focus on a whole lot to me. Outs are outs, but I know there are certain situations where I need strikeouts. It is nice to have the weapons to get those strikeouts when I need them.”
Interestingly enough, golf has become an outlet for Wicks. The sport has helped him find an area to decompress in between outings.
“The only thing he has done to get ready for pro ball is that he goes golfing like three times a week,” Hughes said. “That’s what those big-league starters do. They get razor-sharp golf games.”
Wicks earned Preseason Co-Big 12 Player of the Year honors heading into the season and was listed as one of the top college prospects by D1Baseball, but despite the hype, he is still determined to win at K-State.
“I don’t focus much on that at all,” Wicks said. “My focus is on K-State and trying to get us to a regional. That is what I focus on, and anything outside of that I honestly don’t pay much attention to it.”
Despite being a top MLB draft prospect, Wicks has been able to focus on more than the possibility of him being drafted.
“He’s the gold standard as far as handling being a prospect and having that bullseye on your back,” Hughes said. “He just eliminates the noise that comes with that.”
Wicks, along with K-State fans everywhere will get answers on where Wicks ends up in the pros when the MLB draft takes place in July.