In-game scouting report pays off for Hicks in AFL

In-game scouting report pays off for Hicks in AFL

During the fifth inning of Surprise's 13-11 win over Scottsdale on Wednesday, John Hicks replaced starting catcher Luke Maile. At the time, the Saguaros were up by five runs and seemed to be on the way to an easy victory. But the Scorpions didn't go quietly and scored five runs in the seventh to tie the game.

The game was still deadlocked in the ninth, when Hicks stepped into the batter's box to face right-hander Colton Murray with two out and runners on second and third. Nick Williams had nearly broken the tie with a deep drive to right-center field, but the ball hopped over the wall for a ground-rule double, forcing Jesse Winker to return to third base.

Before Winker walked back up the line, he paused to give Hicks a quick scouring report on Murray. That exchange would come in handy when Murray threw Hicks a 2-2 curveball.

"Winker had told me the guy had a good breaking ball," Hicks said. "He left it up and I was able to find the hole."

Hicks pulled the ball through the left side of the infield to drive in Winker and Williams and give the Saguaros the lead. Right-hander Aaron Kurcz finished the game with a scoreless bottom half of the ninth, sealing Surprise's victory and snapping Scottsdale's four-game winning streak.

Even before erupting for 13 runs Wednesday, the Saguaros had the highest-scoring offense in the Arizona Fall League. In eight games this fall, they have scored 56 runs.

"When you're putting up runs like we did tonight and we have some other times, it's a fun dugout to be in," Hicks said. "It's a lot of fun when the guys you have going up to the plate are some of the best players in Minor League Baseball and some have been in the Major Leagues already."

The Saguaros got on the scoreboard with five runs in the second and three more in both the third and fourth innings to open their big lead. Nine of the 10 Saguaros who played Wednesday collected at least one hit. First baseman Kyle Waldrop led the team, going 3-for-5 with a double, a triple, three runs and two RBIs. Hicks, the Mariners' No. 19 prospect, finished the night 1-for-3 and stole a base.

Despite all the offense, however, Surprise was unable to put Scottsdale away. The Scorpions scored six runs of their own over the first three innings and then tied the game with five runs in the seventh off right-hander Burch Smith, the Padres' No. 17 prospect.

Center fielder Roman Quinn, the Phillies' No. 5 prospect, went 4-for-5 with a triple, a walk and a stolen base. He scored three runs and drove in one more. Right fielder Aaron Judge, the Yankees' No. 5 prospect, finished the night 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs.

"We didn't pitch as well as we would like to," Hicks said. "We have great arms and you're not usually going to score 11 runs on the pitching staff we have out here."

Throughout his career, Hicks has been known for his defense and has developed a good reputation for being able to work with pitchers. He has steadily progressed through the Minor Leagues, reaching Triple-A Tacoma this year.

After a successful season that saw him hit .290/.351/.403 with five home runs in 81 games between Double-A Jackson and Tacoma, Hicks said he hopes to continue his development this fall against the elite competition the AFL provides.

"The most important thing for almost all catchers is defense," Hicks said. "Working with the pitchers we have on the team and trying to get them through. Just be the best catcher I can be for them. And everyone wants to hit. It's so fun to face the arms that we're facing."

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.