The 2021 MLB Draft will begin on July 11, 2021. We take a look at Nathan Hickey, an offense-first catcher from Florida with a powerful bat and smooth approach at the plate.
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Nathan Hickey, Catcher, Florida
Weight: 210 lbs.
2020: 15G, .311/.439/.622, 14 H, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 10 BB, 15 K
2021: 60G, .317/.435/.522, 71 H, 9 HR, 50 RBI, 42 BB, 40 K
Hickey’s best trait is his offense, with power being the top selling point. He swings a solid bat and also has a solid arm, though his fielding, framing, and running are suboptimal. Still, he projects as a catcher long-term and could make an impact from a power standpoint.
As mentioned, power is Hickey’s best trait, though his hit tool is also making noise. The left-handed hitter has cleaned up his approach at the plate and also improved his patience, walking at a higher rate and striking out less frequently in 2021. He also has a really good swing trajectory and impressive bat speed, both of which could impress scouts tremendously.
Behind the dish, Hickey has a very good arm. He also has an above-average pop time and has become much more athletic ever since losing weight over a year ago. While not incredibly agile, his weight loss has helped him out some. With an impressive offensive status and mediocre profile at the plate, a transition to first base or left field has not been ruled out for the backstop.
While Hickey has been great offensively, his defense can be a liability. As mentioned, he improved his agility, but only from very poor to poor. He’s still below average when it comes to athleticism and this could hurt his stock drastically, especially as modern-day catchers take on a more athletic and versatile physique. All in all, his glovework on balls in the dirt leaves a lot to be desired.
Hickey’s pitch-framing ability checks in at subpar, too. The 21-year-old doesn’t have great hands and has struggled to frame pitches in a smooth fashion. Once again, as modern-day catching transitions into an advanced trend with masterful pitch-framing, Hickey could frequently find himself a step behind. Framing can be taught, so it will be up to scouts to decide how much his technique can be altered and improved.
Pro Comparison: Chance Sisco
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Sisco has plenty in common with Hickey. Unfortunately, the most glaring similarity isn’t a strength but rather a weakness. Sisco has turned just 43.2 percent of non-swing pitches into called strikes this year, which sixth-worst among 60 qualified catchers in 2021. He ranks third-worst with negative three Runs Extra Strikes, which is a Statcast metric that converts strikes to runs saved while adjusting for ballpark and pitcher factors. With that said, on a more positive note, Cisco has caught six players stealing on nine attempts and historically has a pop time to second base around 2.1 seconds. Both of these metrics are fairly similar to those of Hickey.
For context, Sisco was a second-round pick by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013. He has a .992 fielding percentage behind the dish over parts of five MLB seasons. As a hitter, he’s slashed .199/.319/.339 with 16 homers and 53 RBI over 598 at-bats.
Draft Projection: Early Fourth-Round Pick
There’s a lot to like about Hickey’s approach at the plate, which is above-average in terms of being polished. He also has a strong arm and should stay behind the dish long-term. (Of course, if he can’t, he would likely fit in well at first base or left field, too.) Still, his running is a concern, and that can’t be taught. His athleticism and glovework surely worry teams, too. As a result, it might take a few rounds for him to hear his name called. A late third-round or early fourth-round projection seems about right at this point.