Last season, Blake Hickman pitched for the White Sox Single-A Advanced team, the Winston-Salem Dash. The 6’5″, 225 pound right-hander grew up in Chicago and attended Simeon Career Academy. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2015 MLB draft out of Iowa, his career hit a minor setback when he needed Tommy John surgery roughly two weeks after signing with the club, missing nearly two full seasons of baseball. Now at 25 years old, Blake has posted a career 5.08 ERA and 110 strikeouts as both a starter and a reliever in 156 innings spanning two minor league seasons. Recently, I had the chance to catch up with him and ask him the following questions.
Growing up in Chicago, where you a Sox fan or Cubs fan?
Growing up, I was a Sox fan. My father, Jon, took me to a few games when I was in daycare and middle school. The White Sox were all I knew growing up.
What were your thoughts and feelings when you found out the White Sox drafted you? Where were you when you heard the news?
I was excited to know that the Sox were interested in me but I thought it was too good to be true. When I heard they drafted me, it was a surreal moment for myself and my family. I was at home in the living room, then my phone started going off. I saw that I got drafted by the Sox, then I ran to my brother, Christian, and Mom to tell them the good news and we just were really excited for the opportunity.
What does it feel like to now be part of an organization centered in your hometown?
It’s kind of hard to say since not too many people know of me just yet, but hopefully I can make impact on the city of Chicago. It’s truly a blessing to be playing for the White Sox and also being from Chicago. Once I earn the opportunity for the fans to really know me, that’s when it will hit, what it really means to be a part of the White Sox.
What has been the hardest part of getting to where you are at this point in your career?
I would say the hardest part has been making the transition from catching to pitching. I still have so much growing to do on the mound. I started pitching at 21 years old, then had Tommy John surgery and missed two seasons. It has taught me that I need to work very hard to get where I want to be, and that I can’t take anything for granted. 2018 definitely showed that I have so much work to be done when it comes to be being a big league pitcher.
What advice would you give to a younger player that may have aspirations of one day getting drafted and playing in the Major Leagues?
I would tell younger players to be ready for the failure that comes with the game of baseball and always remain humble. Definitely work hard and understand the game just has much as you work hard on perfecting your craft. The mental side of the game is very important.
What were some of the main differences between your first year in the organization compared to your college career?
The difference between my first season being after I was cleared of TJ surgery in pro ball was that I was facing the best of the best every time out. In college, I was able to blow my fastball by guys and get away with an okay slider and no change up. Pro baseball has showed me that I need to have more than just a fastball and a okay slider. Also, that I have to actually pitch rather than being a thrower.
How have you handled the transition from being a starter in Kannapolis to more of a reliever in Winston-Salem?
Last season was a tough season because of things I took for granted, but as the season went on, I really became comfortable as a reliever. When I was a starter in 2017, I was comfortable because that’s what I’ve always done ever since I started pitching. So making the transition was new for me because it’s a different style of pitching. The guys that I spent all of the 2018 season in Winston-Salem helped me a lot. Mainly Danny Dopico and Mike Morrison.
What are your ultimate goals as you continue your journey towards the MLB?
Outside of making it to the big leagues with the White Sox, my ultimate goal is to be able to change lives in Chicago. I want to change my family’s lives and kids that I know need it to have brighter futures. I’ve come to understand it’s more than just trying to be a big leaguer, but also being a positive role model to the youth in the inner city of Chicago.
What is it like to be surrounded by so much talent in the Minor Leagues, especially after some of the organization’s trades?
I mean it’s unreal to be able to play with those guys. I really enjoy playing with them and even though I’m older, I’m still learning from them. There is so much talent in the organization. The guys that get all the love definitely deserve it and the fans will love them, but there’s also guys they don’t know about that are coming. They are just as talented as those guys on both sides of the baseball, hitting and pitching. I really hope and I’m going to work as hard as I can so that I’m apart of the future of the Chicago White Sox. It’s going to be special.
Have you had the opportunity to work with Don Cooper and if so, what kind of advice has he given you that resonates the most?
I have worked with Don Cooper and he was one of the people who had helped me out of my struggles in 2018. I don’t want to give out the wisdom he gave me but he made me realize what I needed to do to attack hitters and where my head should be at. He’s a great guy and I’m glad he’s willing to help me along the way.
As you all can tell, Blake Hickman wants to get on the South Side and is willing to put in the work to do so. Hickman has been facing adversity his entire life from staying out of gang trouble in his rough Chicago neighborhood, to overcoming Tommy John surgery and pitching on two consecutive minor league playoff teams (2017 Kannapolis Intimidators and 2018 Winston-Salem Dash). For those reasons and many others, Blake Hickman pitching in a White Sox uniform seems inevitable. I would like to give a tremendous thank you to Blake for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer the following questions. Everyone here at Sox On 35th is eager to see him make it up to Guaranteed Rate Field. We wish him nothing but success as he prepares for the 2019 season!
Featured Edit: Created by Brandon Anderson (@b_son4).