CHICAGO -- There's a strong chance Blake Hickman would have been drafted by a Major League Baseball team even without his participation in the White Sox Amateur City Elite youth program.
This high-character junior from the University of Iowa certainly possesses plenty of raw talent to stand on his own. But Hickman knows how much ACE has meant to his life.
So it seems only fitting that the right-handed hurler became the highest-drafted player to come from ACE when he was selected by the White Sox in the seventh round of the 2015 MLB Draft on Tuesday.
"It's an honor," said Hickman by phone from his home in Palos Hills, Ill., on Tuesday afternoon. "The White Sox have been my favorite team ever since I first started playing baseball, and I'm glad they have given me this opportunity."
"When we first started the ACE program, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, if they could graduate college,'" said White Sox vice president of community relations Christine O'Reilly. "One of the staff members was like, 'Can you imagine if we ever get a kid drafted and makes it to the bigs and leaves us tickets?' It makes me almost want to cry to say that."
Some Draft projections had Hickman ranked in the first 70 picks, and the White Sox didn't think he would get to their fourth-round selection at No. 112, let alone the seventh. White Sox assistant scouting director Nick Hostetler said that Hickman had some tough games in the Big 10 tournament and the NCAA Regional, but when Hickman was there in the seventh, the White Sox knew it was time.
"We're excited about him. We think there is a huge projection there," said Hostetler of Hickman. "The ACE part of it and him being a local kid was kind of a bonus for us. Our scout, J.J. Lally, did a good job with him. We've known him forever, and we made the call. ... He was so excited to be here."
"They have been there for me since I was 12 years old," said Hickman of the White Sox. "Hopefully I'll make it to the big leagues and help them win a World Series. I'm really excited."
Hickman started as a catcher at Iowa after prepping at Simeon Academy in Chicago. He didn't become a full-time pitcher until this past season, and Hostetler said Hickman almost has to be treated like a high school kid, because he hasn't pitched much.
"His upside is tremendous, with his body and arm strength and whatnot," Hostetler said. "If his curveball comes, he has a chance to be special."
That 12-year-old reference made by Hickman was connected to his start with ACE. Hickman finished with ACE when he was 17, but had a special boost toward the White Sox on Tuesday thanks to the White Sox community commitment.
"I became a better man. That organization got me to where I am today," Hickman said. "They prepared me for this type of moment, on and off the field."
"You look at these boys, and now they are men," O'Reilly said. "It has been such a treat watching them grow up. For them being able to experience success and to know we've had a little part of that is just incredible."
The Draft concludes on Wednesday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 11 a.m. CT.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.