The Kansas City Royals had their fifth player start in center field this season, Brewer Hicklen, who made his Major League debut Thursday night in the club’s series opener against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
The Royals added Hicklen, who’d been at Triple-A Omaha, to the major-league roster prior to the game and also recalled right-handed relief pitcher Dylan Coleman from Triple-A. Hicklen received the news on Wednesday from Triple-A manager Scott Thorman.
At first, Hicklen and several teammates were informed that they’d probably be called up as taxi-squad players, which meant they’d be in Minneapolis but not officially on the roster.
“Then he called me back in the office about 20 minutes later and said call your wife,” Hicklen said. “We FaceTimed her and we got to celebrate. He said, ‘Hey, your husband is a big leaguer. And he’s going to be in the lineup tomorrow.’
“So it was pretty cool to have that moment with Thor, who I’ve been with for five years. He has become a good father figure for me all the way from Lexington to Wilmington. Now, in Triple-A. It has been an incredible blessing for sure.”
Hicklen quipped that his wife, Reagan, passed out for a second upon hearing Thorman’s words. Hicklen, 26, said it took until Thursday morning for it to sink in that he’d made it to the big leagues.
“Twenty-two years of just getting after it, since I was 4 years old playing for the Purple People Eaters,” Hicklen said of the little league team his mother coached.
This season with Omaha, Hicklen played the majority of his games in right field (33) but also played six games (five starts) in center field. He was a center fielder in college at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
The fact that Hicklen came up to the majors without having been on the 40-man roster indicates that the injured list designations were related to health and safety protocols governing the handling of potential COVID-19 cases or contact tracing.
“I’m happy for him. He got off to a really good start in Triple-A,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said of Hicklen, who spent a large chunk of time in big-league camp as a non-roster invite. “He’s playing well. We know he’s got speed, can cover the outfield and he’s got some pop too.
“I always like seeing these guys come in and get a shot when we have a need. We have a need right now.”
Hicklen said he had a contingent of friends and family coming to town for the game including his wife, parents, in-laws, an aunt, an uncle and a couple close friends.
Sitting on the bench in the visiting dugout two and a half hours before his first game in the majors, Hicklen attempted to put his promotion into perspective.
“I think for me what comes to mind first and foremost is not necessarily all the success that I’ve had, but more so the failure,” Hicklen said. “A lot of people let failure define them. It was just 12 months ago that I was in Double-A and I really was at the lowest place in my life. I remember specifically being in Frisco and in the outfield and struggling so bad that I didn’t know if I was ever good enough to be here. I said this may be the end for me. I just don’t know if I’ll ever get it figured out.”
Hicklen credited the change in his mindset to a midnight telephone conversation with a former Royals former minor-league coach, Larry Sutton, in which he opened up about his struggles and received “life advice.”
“I’ve had a peace this year that I’ve never had in my entire life and I thank God for that because I don’t really define who I am in the way that I play,” Hicklen said. “I define myself as how I impact that people around me. That’s my biggest motto in life, to bring people closer to Christ.
“When you have that perspective, this becomes secondary and it really just becomes fun. I’ve had the time of my life this year and I’m going to have that same perspective tonight. Obviously, I’m as competitive as it gets and I want to have the most success that I can. I want to be the best number 75 there ever was. It has been a special moment to sit back, reflect and realize that God has had his hand on me the whole entire time and molded me into who I am.”
In 42 games for Triple-A Omaha, slashed .266/.350/.455 with five home runs, 24 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.
— Bally Sports Kansas City (@BallySportsKC) May 26, 2022
Royals getting a handle on health issues
The team has been without Gold Glove center fielder Michael A. Taylor since he went on the IL because of health and safety protocols on May 19. Isbel had started in center field in Taylor’s place.
The Royals scratched Isbel from Tuesday’s starting lineup shortly before the game because of “mild illness symptoms.” Third baseman Emmanuel Rivera had previously been taken out of the original lineup due to illness.
The team had an off day on Wednesday, and Rivera was back in the starting lineup on Thursday.
Coleman returned after having been optioned to the minors on Sunday to make room on the roster for Brady Singer’s return. Because he replaced an injured player, he could return without having been in the minors for at least 15 days.
The Royals are also planning to bring several players onto the taxi squad for the remainder of this road trip. They did not have any taxi squad players in Arizona. Pitchers Foster Griffin, Arodys Vizcaino, catcher Freddy Fermin and infielder Gabriel Cancel are expected to join the club in Minnesota.