Hicks and Melotakis: Kernels Roommates on the Rise
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Hicks and Melotakis: Kernels Roommates on the Rise
Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher Mason Melotakis and first baseman Dalton (DJ) Hicks are roommates this summer, sharing the same host family during their stay in Cedar Rapids. Both players played major roles as the team qualified for the Midwest League Playoffs by finishing second in the leagueís Western Division during the first half of the season. Both could be candidates for promotion at some point this summer.
Melotakis leads the Kernels pitching staff in wins with six and innings pitched with 64 2/3. Those six wins are good for fourth spot among Midwest League pitchers. The lefty has been perhaps the most consistently reliable member of the Kernelsí rotation in recent weeks.
Hicks has been one of the biggest power hitting threats in the Midwest League. He leads the Midwest League with 63 RBI in 66 games played for the Kernels and is third in the League with 12 home runs (just one home run behind co-leaders Renato Nunez of Beloit and Rock Shoulders of Kane County). Hicks is one of eight Kernels named to the Midwest League's Western Division All-Star Team.
Melotakis was drafted in the second round of the 2012 First-year Player Draft by the Twins out of Northwestern State University. Hicks was the Twinsí 17th
round draft choice the same year out of the University of Central Florida.
On the final Saturday before the end of the first half of their Midwest League season, Hicks and Melotakis both sat down for interviews and reflected on their seasons, so far. (The interviews were conducted separately, but since similar questions were asked of each player, weíve combined their responses here.)
SD Buhr: DJ, How do you feel the first couple of months in Cedar Rapids have gone for you personally?
Dalton (DJ) Hicks
DJ Hicks: I feel good. You know, baseball is a tough game. Youíre obviously going to have some ups and downs. The thing is, youíve got to be the same person day in and day out and I think thatís the key to success is not to get too high or too low, just stay the same.
SDB: Mason, youíre one of the pitchers the Twins organization is looking at converting to a starting pitching role after spending most of your time prior to this season working out of the bullpen. How do you think things have gone with that so far?
Mason Melotakis: I think itís going well. I mean every day is a new day and every outing is a new outing. Different stuff is working for me on that day. Itís a lot of learning how to pitch and how to adjust as the game goes on versus as a reliever, youíd better have your good stuff right then and there. As a starter, you can kind of turn it on later on.
Early in the year, I struggled in the first inning or early in the game, then it seemed like I settled in. Now Iím adjusting to starting off strong and continuing strong.
SDB: DJ, you profile as a first baseman/designated hitter. Thatís a similar profile to a couple other guys in the organization ahead of you, such as Kennys Vargas, for example. Do you pay attention to what other guys at your position are doing?
Hicks: No idea, because thatís something I canít control. I canít control what they do. I wish them the best, especially a guy like Vargas. Heís an awesome guy. I got to work with him in spring training, great guy. But thatís out of my hands. I can only control how I play.
SDB: Mason, the Ďbookí on you coming in to the year was Ďhard throwing lefty, nice slider, needs work on the change up. Needs to develop his secondary pitches.í Is that what youíve been working on the past couple months?
SDB: How do you feel thatís gone?
Melotakis: I donít think Iím ever going to stop working on that, honestly, because you can always get better and better. But we are completely doing it all over again. Iím throwing a new change up grip and a new slider grip. Weíre going back to square one. Itís all about throwing strikes and keeping them (hitters) off balance.
SDB: Are you doing that because what you were doing before wasnít working or is it just a new idea, trying a couple of different things?
Melotakis: Itís more of a better feel. When I was throwing my change up in a game, it seemed like I was not having a good feel for it. Same with the curve ball, I couldnít really throw it for a strike. So, if you canít throw whatever for a strike, then theyíre not going to swing at it. So youíve got to keep them off balance and be able to throw it for a strike.
I really wasnít throwing (the change up) for strikes or even close sometimes. As for my slider, this one I have a good feel for, so Iím going to throw it for a strike. You know, who knows? It could be two lethal weapons now versus just throwing them out there.
SDB: DJ, I understand a couple of years ago, you had some health issues you had to fight through. A collapsed lung, I believe. What happened there?
Hicks: I was in the Valley League the summer after my freshman year of college. I dove at first base. I think I hit the grass. I felt a little weird. The next at-bat I hit a double and was really out of breath, really fighting it.
The next morning, I couldnít breathe on my right side, waking up. I just couldnít breathe. So we thought I cracked a rib or something. So I took maybe a week or two weeks off in the league. Then the playoffs started so I finished maybe a couple of games in playoffs.
A month later, when I got to UCF, I felt a sharper pain again, so we saw a rib doctor, a specialist, and he said everything was fine. Then we saw just a regular doctor, they took an x-ray and they rushed me to the hospital
Dalton (DJ) Hicks
SDB: How much baseball time did you miss with that?
Hicks: A lot. I was in the hospital for like 16 days. I had to have a couple of different operations because the first one didnít work. They kind of told me I was done (with baseball) from the beginning. Then they kind of said maybe like eight months to a year and a half, pushing two years.
I couldnít do anything for the first three months, I couldnít even hold a backpack. Nothing. But at five months, I thought I was good enough to play. I want to say I played a weekend series and by Sunday it was hard to breathe. It was just too much, so we kind of laid off. I took the rest of the year off. That was my red-shirt sophomore year.
I played a little bit in that summer, but it was still bothering me. Then when I came back, it was just trying to run again and get in shape again. That was definitely the hardest part. Trying to condition with the team and just the warm-ups and I was done.
SDB: Mason, the perception is that, in many cases, for someone that can throw a mid-90s fastball, the path to the Big Leagues might be a little quicker for a relief pitcher than a starter, while a starting pitcherís career could be more lucrative. Did any of that go through your mind when the Twins told you they wanted to make a starting pitcher out of you?
Melotakis: Absolutely. Itís a good career path to be a starter versus a reliever. Right now, weíre developing me in to a good pitcher, as in pitching and not just throwing. Having three pitches I can throw for strikes versus just having the two and just blowing by fastballs.
My fastballís there, itís ready, but itís the other stuff I need to work on. Making me a starter will give me more innings and Iíll also have a chance to work with adversity, adjustments, learning to throw strikes.
Itís just all about development this year. Who knows what my path is? But right now Iím enjoying where Iím at.
SDB: DJ, Youíre on Twitter like a lot of the guys are. Are you active on Social Media sort of things? Do you go out and read what people write about you, about the team?
Hicks: Not at all, to be honest with you. Iím on Twitter. I like Twitter. I like to keep tabs on all my friends, former teammates, guys that arenít playing any more. I use it for that.
Of course, youíre going to run in to stories and see your name and stuff like that, but I really do try to stay away from that stuff Ďcuz that stuff just gets in your head.
SDB: Tell me a little about your interests and hobbies off the field. What do you like to do when youíre not playing baseball?
Hicks: I like to hang out with the family. Iím a big family guy. Iím definitely missing my nephews, my niece. My niece actually just beat cancer at nine months old so that was definitely a struggle. Obviously, weíve been cheering ever since we heard the news. Sheís a tough little girl.
But other than that, I like to play basketball. Iím a big basketball guy.
SDB: Do they let you play basketball?
Hicks: No, not any more. Now I stick to video game basketball (laughing). Any kind of little activities, any kind of games. I like doing stuff. I hate sleeping in. Mason gets mad at me all the time, Ďcuz Iím always waking him up
SDB: Mason, what do you like to do when youíre not on the pitcherís mound?
Melotakis: Honestly, I donít really know, man. Whenever we have off days, we donít do anything. We donít know what to do with our lives (laughing). I work out, try to get better.
I donít really do video games, Iíve never golfed. Iím going to golf for the first time on Monday over the All-Star break. We might see how that goes. Iím not a big video game guy. I watch movies, I guess. Iím a big movie guy.
SDB: Whatís your favorite movie?
Melotakis: My favorite movieís got to be the Batmans. All the Batmans, even old Batmans. Those are the best, I grew up on that.
SDB: Down the road, what do you think youíll remember about playing in Cedar Rapids? Have there been particular highlights during your time here so far that you think will stand out?
Melotakis: Honestly, just the guys. Weíre all a pretty tight-knit team. Being in first place the majority of the year. Iím going to really remember that, just us winning more than anything. Just enjoying our time here. But when youíre winning, everything seems to be a lot better.
Hicks: One, we have a great team. Obviously, when you win, that makes everything way better. When youíve got guys like (Byron) Buxton bringing in crowds, just for him, thatís something special. You donít see the kind of player he is every day. Guys like JD (Williams) , itís been fun playing with him. Heís a different character.
Itís a great town, great host family. I canít complain about anything in Cedar Rapids at all.
SD Buhr covers the Kernels for MetroSportsReport.com in Cedar Rapids.