Hiciano adds depth to lineup

Samuel Hiciano is a much better hitter than what his current numbers with the Williamsport Crosscutters might indicate. His manager, Nelson Prada, has seen it with his own eyes.

He said Hiciano hit just south of .300 during extended spring training. It just hadn’t translated to the 19-year-old’s first professional season in the United States.

Prior to playing the final two games of the Brooklyn series at home this week, Hiciano was hitting just .222 for the Crosscutters. There were flashes here and there. His first home run was a two-run missile against Auburn in early July. He’s had multiple hits in nearly a half-dozen of his 19 games started prior to the Brooklyn series.

But he had never quite fully put it together.

Until this week.

Hiciano showed the tools which made Prada believe he could be a seven or eight home run player and a run-producer in the middle of the Williamsport lineup. He homered in each of the final two games of the series with the Cyclones, his second and third homers of the year.

“He’s way better than what he showed early,” Prada said. “He’s supposed to be a guy hitting in the middle of the lineup. I think we’re hitting him seventh or eighth because we have some guys that are hitting the ball well. But he makes our lineup stronger at the bottom.”

Prada recently found out why it’s been a struggle for Hiciano. The outfielder came into his office after a game a little over a week ago and told him he’d been trying to play with a sore wrist. Hiciano asked his manager if he wanted him to continue to try and play through the injury.

It was the first Prada had heard of the injury, but it made sense. A wrist injury for a power hitter isn’t much different from a leg injury to a speed player. It neutralizes the plus tool which makes them such a threat as a professional.

Hiciano had made just two appearances since July 23 before getting the start in the final two games of the Brooklyn series, and those both came in pinch-running situations as he let his wrist heal. But when he came back, he came back with a bang.

He hit a solo home run on the first pitch he saw from Brooklyn reliever Darwin Frias in the fourth inning Wednesday which gave Williamsport a 6-1 lead. He added a no-doubt-about-it two-run homer to left-center field against Cyclones starter Robert Gsellman in the second inning Thursday night which gave the Cutters a 2-0 lead.

Hiciano finished the two games 2 for 7 with a walk, but the back-to-back games with home runs were the first time this year he’s put significant offensive contributions together on consecutive nights. His three RBIs in the two nights prior to last night’s series opener against Staten Island nearly doubled his season RBI total to seven.

“You have to understand your role and what you can do. He’s an outfielder who can possibly hit for power,” Prada said. “If you feel something when you’re swinging you might not swing right. So you have to stop and get it fixed and see how it goes. Now it seems like he’s feeling better.”

Hiciano’s injury was to his right wrist, or the top hand to his right-handed swing. Prada explained how the pain could cause the bat head to drop in his swing, or even for him to release the bat prematurely in his swing, both of which would lead to him not making solid contact and hitting weak fly balls.

Over the final two games of the Brooklyn series Hiciano hit the two home runs and was hitting some harder ground balls for outs.

The emergence of Hiciano only further complicates the job for Prada in putting together a lineup every day, especially if Hiciano continues to flash the kind of power he did against the Cyclones. Players like Gustavo Martinez and Dylan Cozens are players which have to be in the lineup nearly every day.

That leaves Hiciano battling a streaking Jiandido Tromp and an improving Justin Parr for playing time. Tromp has lifted his batting average north of .300 and Parr has raised his average nearly 20 points to .261.

But Prada insists, it’s a good problem to have.

“What I tell them every time I talk to them is you want to make your manager put your name in the lineup,” Prada said. “Trompy has been getting a hit or two a game and he’s pretty much in a good competition with Martinez. But Trompy made me put him in the lineup more often. But now with (Andrew) Knapp beginning to catch, we’ll have the DH spot open. So we’ll see what I’m going to do.”

GRAND THEFT SECOND: Going into the three-game series against Brooklyn, Prada saw the numbers so he wanted to give his baserunners the green light to try and swipe some bases. The fourth-best base-stealing team in the New York-Penn League took advantage, safely stealing nine of the 10 times it tried against the Cyclones.

“I like to see stats. Catchers on their club had only thrown out like 22 or 23 percent of runners,” Prada said. “We’re not going to run with everybody, but we have some guys who can steal bases.”

Throwing out base-stealers hasn’t exactly been a forte of the Cyclones’ catchers this year. Prior to Friday’s games, Brooklyn catchers have thrown out just 18 of 91 potential base-stealers. The combination of pitchers which threw against Williamsport in the three-game set had allowed 38 of 42 baserunners to steal safely this year.

So Prada put on the green light. Malquin Canelo stole three bases, Gustavo Martinez added two, and Zach Green, Andrew Knapp, Justin Parr and Jairo Cardozo each had a steal.

“We’ve got some guys that can steal any time. And we have some guys who have a little speed but will only steal when the opportunity is there,” Prada said. “When we have a really solid opportunity, I have no problem sending guys.”