Nowhere on MLB Pipeline’s current list of top Kansas City prospects will you find Brewer Hicklen. And you probably won’t see him with the KC Royals next year—this was his first campaign above High-A ball, and despite proving his power with 16 homers in 107 games at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and hitting .329 in August and .271 in September, his .246 season average suggests he needs more seasoning.
The Royals, however, can add what Hicklen did Friday night to the list of attributes pointing to him getting to Kauffman Stadium at some point.
The setting was classic. Hicklen’s Northwest Arkansas club had the chance to sweep its best-of-five series with Wichita and win the Double-A Central Championship Series. Hicklen, whose solo home run snapped a seventh-inning tie and proved instrumental in the Naturals’ opening game win, stepped to the plate in the fourth inning with the game again deadlocked, this time 1-1.
Leadoff hitter Meibrys Viloria singled, Seuly Matias followed with a four-pitch walk, and Freddy Fermin, who wound up hitting .416 in the series, singled to load the bases.
Hicklen worked Wind Surge starter Austin Schulfer to a 1-1 count, then ruined Schulfer’s night—and Wichita’s—with a grand slam to left that gave the Northwest Arkansas a 5-1 lead.
Wichita managed a run in their half of the fourth, but Hicklen’s slam was simply too much. The Naturals won 6-2.
The victory, aided by starter Drew Parrish holding Wichita to two runs and striking out five in four innings, and five combined shutout innings by relievers Nolan Watson and Jose Cuas, clinched the championship and exacted a bit of revenge from the Wind Surge. Wichita finished 4.5 games ahead of the Naturals to win the Central-North Division title, so the playoff win made the season even better.
What’s in store next season for the KC Royals’ Double-A affiliate?
With the 2021 campaign in the books, the Naturals look forward to 2022, but not without questions.
Will Manager Scott Thorman return? The KC Royals could consider him for the Triple-A Omaha job, which opens when Brian Poldberg retires as soon as the Storm Chasers’ season ends next weekend.
Will stars like first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino (11 homers with a .310/.405/.560 line in 55 games after being promoted from High-A in June) and catcher-DH Fermin (.279 with a .356 OBP and 10 homers) be back, or start the season at Omaha?
The same goes for Cuas (3-1 with a 1.95 ERA and three saves in 22 games), Parrish (5-4, 3.36 in 17 starts), Josh Dye (4-2, 2.52 and nine saves in 38 relief appearances), and Austin Cox (4-1, 3.00 over 15 starts).
And can hot pitching prospect Jonathan Bowlan recover from Tommy John surgery in time to see action with Northwest Arkansas?
Time will tell. The Naturals open their season April 8.
Two other KC Royals affiliates weren’t as lucky in Friday playoff games.
Quad Cities and Omaha, Kansas City’s other farm teams playing in the postseason both lost Friday night.
The River Bandits suffered the most critical defeat. After splitting the first of their best-of-five series with Cedar Rapids, the Bandits fell behind early and lost 8-4. The Kernels struck for two runs in the second and four in the fourth, and Edouard Julien hit a pair of home runs for Cedar Rapids. First baseman Jake Means had three hits for Quad Cities.
The Kernels can win the High-A Central Championship with a win tonight.
Omaha, playing in Triple-A’s 10-game “Final Stretch,” lost to Indianapolis 9-8 despite Angelo Castellano’s three-run homer in the ninth that drew the Storm Chasers to within one.
Nick Pratto homered twice, and Bobby Witt Jr. once, for Omaha.
The Chasers are now 2-1 in the Stretch and play Indianapolis again tonight.
Northwest Arkansas won a postseason title Friday night. Quad Cities and Omaha remain in the hunt in their postseason series.