Joey Rickard was on virtually no one’s radar heading into spring training. A quick scan of just about every prominent prospect publication on the market not only doesn’t list the former Devil Ray amongst the top prospects but do not even mention him on any lists or are any prospect depth charts. Still, the Orioles selected him in this past off-season’s Rule-5 draft as a potential back-up, a role that seemed to be consistent with his ceiling at the time. The former ninth-round pick certainly has some attractive skills, particularly for that role, as a solid defender at all three outfield positions. Offensively, Rickard enjoys having plus speed and is coming off of a twenty-four stolen base season amongst three different levels of minor league play. The righty also possesses a fundamentally sound approach at the plate, walking more often than he struck out between A+ and AA ball last season. That approach fell somewhat apart as he made contact just 81% of the time in 104 Triple-A plate appearances while watching his walk rate slip to under 10%. Tools-wise, Rickard’s most significant shortcoming in his game is a lack of power. He managed just two home runs last year and has hit no more than eight in any previous single minor league season. Fortunately, Rickard has at least shown modest gap power, hitting doubles and triples at solid rates in the minors.
As of this writing, it appears Rickard has forced the Orioles hand and will open 2016 as their starting left fielder and will likely force them to rework Korean import, Hyun-Soo Kim’s contract to the point of either requesting he go to the minors or have his contract voided altogether (with compensation of course).
As fantasy players, with stolen bases in such high demand, it forces our hand too. In order to obtain him, if you’ve already drafted that is, AL-only leaguers will have to commit a fairly significant amount of FAAB in order to claim him. Such a bid comes with substantial risk. Rickard is clearly no sure thing to stick particularly once scouting reports on him circulate about the league.
This is still the same player who managed a .243/.337/.296 line in AA as recently as 2014 and has also, at times, showed signs of having difficulties against right-handed pitching. Rickard may end up starting for much of 2016 but he still probably profiles as a fourth or fifth outfielder beyond this year.
So often we see the next great speedster all set to make his debut only to be overpowered by major league pitchers. Much of it can be tied to a lack of translation of their contact skills and/or overall plate discipline fail to the Majors. Rickard is in that same boat and the odds are stacked against him. I wish him luck but remain skeptical for now.
A Word About Jesus Montero
If Montero could catch, we wouldn’t be talking about him being put on waivers, claimed on waivers, and then the Blue Jays most likely trying to slip him through waivers to get to the minors. Instead, we’d be probably be analyzing the righty from the standpoint of a player entering his fifth season as a full-time player. That is a testament to his bat in that our expectations of production from catchers are far more forgiving and when compared to other current backstops, he fits in nicely and would be more coveted than quite a few.
Coming up through the minors Montero’s raw power and original position created quite a bit of hype. As a right-handed hitter with his power potential who did not strikeout overly much and who walked a fairly average amount, it looked like Montero had a bat that would not only stick, but that should translate fairly quickly to the Majors. Unfortunately, Montero did not advance defensively as planned and became one of a plethora of right-handed first basemen/designated hitter types. Still, the Yankees extracted Michael Pineda from the Mariners from him and the Mariners indeed gave him a shot.
Looking back at 2012, while Montero certainly did not dominate, for a 22-year old playing full time in the majors he did actually translate most of his minor league skills fairly well when considering most players his age were still in AAA, batting .260/.290/.386 with fifteen homers isn’t all that terrible. Again, were he a catcher of any skill, it might have been heralded as quite a success to not only handle a major league staff but to show some offensive potential. Regardless of position, 2012 looked like something Montero could build off. Instead, he struggled early in 2013 and ended up spending a lot of time out of action. By 2014 he was already out of the Mariner’s plans. While Montero has yet to fulfill his promise and has not dominated at any minor league level, he is still coming off of two solid AAA seasons. At 26 the move to journeyman AAA roster filler has probably begun in earnest. There is a chance he could push his way into a platoon at first base depending upon the volatility of Chris Colabello, but it’s likely the Jays are not the best fit for him and that Toronto could end up being one of a few pit-stops in 2016.