One former White Sox prospect has transitioned into coaching and will be staying within the organization.
It was recently announced that former right-handed pitcher Blake Hickman had been named the new pitching coach at Low-A Kannapolis.
At just 29 years old, Hickman will become one of the younger coaches in the White Sox’ organization. The right-hander was drafted in the seventh round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of the University of Iowa and spent two seasons pitching within the White Sox’ organization. Over that time, he pitched in Low-A and High-A, accumulating 156 innings and posting a 5.08 ERA. In 2019, Hickman went on to pitch in the Frontier Independent League for the Windy City ThunderBolts, throwing 50 innings and posting a 3.42 ERA in 38 appearances.
Hickman recently spoke with us about his playing career, the transition to coaching, and the philosophies he hopes to instill in the next wave of young talent.
To start, can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself – where did you grow up, when did you start playing baseball, and when did you decide that you wanted to make a career out of it?
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a neighborhood called Auburn Gresham, and I started playing baseball at 5 years old. I played all the main sports growing up and football was my first love, but I quickly realized that I was not built to play football long-term. So, at the age of 14, I started improving at baseball and knew it was time to go all in with it when I got into the ACE Program and then high school.
As you alluded to, you grew up in Chicago and were part of the ACE Program for the White Sox. What was your experience like with the program, and are there things you learned as part of it that helped you prepare for professional baseball?
My time playing for the ACE Program is some of my favorite memories. They gave me the chance to travel the country and play against some of the best talent in the world at the time. For me, it was them taking a kid from where I’m from and give them a chance to be successful in life. Because of ACE I got a full ride from the University of Iowa. Without it, I’m not sure if that would’ve been possible.
The ACE Program got me more ready for college baseball rather than professional baseball. I had to maintain good grades to play (mom’s orders), commit to baseball, love the game and work hard. I never had so much positivity thrown at me than while being in the ACE Program. It felt good to have coaches on my side no matter what. They just wanted all of us to be successful in life not just baseball.
What were some of your favorite moments from your time as a player at the University of Iowa?
My favorite moment as a player at Iowa was pitching at Duane Banks Field in front of 3,000 fans every Saturday. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Every time I pitched in front of them, I threw my best because I felt they were all pulling for me to dominate, and I was glad I did that for them.
You were drafted by the Cubs out of high school and the White Sox out of the University of Iowa, so you’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago. What did it mean to get the call from the White Sox specifically, especially considering your history with the team and city?
I was so proud and happy. I felt like I knew the organization before I even signed. It was a tough draft process in 2015 but I’m forever grateful for the Chicago White Sox for giving me a chance to chase my dream of being in the big leagues. No matter how my career went I loved being a part of the White Sox.
What was it like getting to play professional baseball in the White Sox organization?
It was challenging starting off with having Tommy John surgery. Losing that playing time crushed me because I got drafted by my favorite team of all time and I couldn’t play. Once I got cleared to play, I loved every second of competing with that White Sox logo on me. I got to meet lifelong friends and learn from the best coaches and players in the world. I remember every moment like it was yesterday.
You were named a Minor League Pitching Coach for the White Sox prior to this upcoming season. How did you decide it was time to retire as a player, and how did you become a coach within the organization? Where will your focus be as a coach next year?
I knew it was time for me to retire after playing a year of independent baseball. I did the best I could, and I felt it was time to hang up the cleats after not getting picked up before the COVID year happened.
Everett Teaford reached out to me and asked, after a really good conversation, if I wanted to be a pitching coach and rejoin the White Sox organization. Of course, it was a no-brainer, and I accepted the opportunity. My focus will be helping our pitchers be the best pitchers they can be.
My professional focus is to just learn myself so that I’m a better pitcher coach for them. I got to learn from Ely and Z from them being my pitching coaches so I just think back and talk with them currently on how I can better myself so that I can better our guys.
Though you’re still new to coaching, do you have any philosophies that you know you will want to bring as a coach?
Throw strikes and compete. If guys do that then we are on the right path to get where they need to be.
As my coaching career goes, I will continue to build on my own philosophies within the White Sox pitching philosophy. With this being my first year, I want to be an open book and focus on what’s important to me to help guys have a successful career.
Before being asked, did you want to be a coach after your playing career? What has the transition been like from player to your first few months as a coach?
In some form, yes. I wanted to coach. I thought it would be strength and conditioning, but I still ended up from my way back to pitching.
When I got the offer, I was done running from the sign and went all in with being a pitching coach. I’m at peace with how my career went so I don’t think it’ll be a hard transition going into professional baseball as a coach. It’s all about our guys and making a positive impact in their careers and help them improve to move up and be ready for that.
What can Sox fans expect from the next group of young arms in the White Sox organization?
They can expect some elite guys coming. These guys are hungry to start their careers and compete. I truly believe that these guys will make an impact, bring the spark back into our minor league system, and one day at the big-league level.
Lastly, to what – or whom – do you owe your success throughout your life? Is there a piece of advice you would share with younger players?
To my whole support system that stuck with me through the good and bad times. They know who they are, and I’m blessed and couldn’t have accomplished anything without them.
For young players, simple work hard and treat people right. Work hard at learning the game, training, practice, recovery, school, and relationships. If you give that 100% and sky is the limit and higher. Also, be grateful for every opportunity you receive or worked hard for.
On behalf of the entire Sox On 35th team, we would like to thank Blake for taking the time to answer our questions. We are thrilled for him to not only receive this opportunity but to work with the organization’s prospects who will undoubtedly benefit from his knowledge and insight.
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Featured Photo: MiLB/Twitter