Joey Rickard Is Changing the Orioles’ Plans

I’m an optimistic player evaluator, and I recognize that. I try to see the good in what players can do, so I liked the Orioles’ idea of signing Hyun-soo Kim out of Korea. Now, Kim has not had a good spring training to this point, so he hasn’t made the best first impression. He also probably hasn’t made his last impression, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see this headline from Ken Rosenthal:

kim-korea

This is something the Orioles have done before. A headline on Orioles.com says the team dismissed the report, but this post from Eduardo A. Encina makes it sound like Kim is indeed on the outside looking in. The Orioles might at least try to send Kim to the minors. In part, that’s because Kim hasn’t looked good, and he was hitless through his first 23 at-bats. Kim has to know he hasn’t yet been impressive. But there’s another factor — a surprising one — and that factor goes by the name of Joey Rickard. Rickard came to camp just hoping to make the roster, but based on the circumstances, he might become an outfield starter.

I thought Rickard was helping me out on Monday, knocking a first-inning triple as this article was in the planning stages. Upon further review, the triple came on a fly ball that should’ve been caught, so that takes some of the shine off of it, but even coming into Monday, Rickard has had a big spring. Buck Showalter points to him as a guy who does something every single day to stand out. Rickard has earned himself plenty of praise in March, and it’s here I should give you the necessary background before we all get too excited and out of control.

Rickard’s almost 25, and he was a ninth-round draft pick. He never ranked in Baseball America’s Tampa Bay Top 10, and, importantly, he joined the Orioles by way of the Rule 5 Draft. And it’s not even like Rickard was the top selection — he was the fifteenth selection, or at least, he was selected in the fifteenth slot, after seven other players and seven other passes. I don’t want to say Rickard has been unwanted, but he definitely hasn’t been wanted. You have to look out for getting ahead of yourself because of a hot spring training. Hot spring trainings (springs training?) can mislead. Rickard has 13 career home runs, and just three above Single-A.

Here’s a spring-training home run Rickard hit. This is certainly proof that Rickard is capable of leaving the yard. But if you look at the swing, I think it agrees with the history — this isn’t the swing of a home-run threat. This is the swing of a guy who more wants to play to the gaps. If he can even reach them.

There are three ways to approach the Rule 5 Draft. The first is by ignoring it. As an alternative to that, you can go for the big upside, usually in the form of a guy from the low minors. And then you can try to go for some lower-ceiling predictability. This is where Rickard fits in. The Orioles didn’t take him because they think he’ll be an All-Star. They took him because, last year, across three levels, he hit .321 with a .427 OBP. He had about as many walks as strikeouts, and he finished in Triple-A. There’s hardly any power in there, but Rickard runs well, and he covers all three outfield positions. Rickard isn’t, say, Socrates Brito, but there’s a similar basic idea. The big flashy primary skill isn’t there, but the assortment of skills gives Rickard a decently-high floor.

Rickard is a contact-hitting righty with strike-zone control that so far has offset the lack of pop. It can be challenging to hit like this at the highest level. There’s always the concern that big-leaguers will be aggressive with strikes. Then, if you don’t punish the strikes, you won’t get any balls, and the OBP craters. That could be why the Rays were willing to give Rickard up. It’s worth noting they also dealt the similar Boog Powell. From the Orioles’ perspective, they could see Rickard as the type that scouts just overlook. He could be the hitter equivalent of a pitcher with good command and a useful changeup. Those pitchers get ignored if the velocity isn’t there, but sometimes they come up and throw 200 innings.

On the one hand, you have the broad base of skills. On the other hand, you have the lack of probably the most important skill, and you have the fact that Rickard was dropped by the Rays of all teams. And he wasn’t eagerly scooped up in the Rule 5 before the Orioles got a turn. I don’t think there’s any questioning that Rickard is an interesting player. He seems like he could be a major-league player. I’m not sold that a could-be contender should want to be thinking about starting him.

But really, it depends on the Orioles’ evaluation of Rickard’s defense and baserunning. If I had to guess, then, based on what I’ve seen, Rickard is a positive in both categories. But just how positive could he be? As I was thinking about Rickard, I thought of two other players. Ryan Freel had a similar-sounding profile, and he once topped out at 3.8 WAR. Craig Gentry, also, has had a similar-sounding profile, and he once topped out at 3.5 WAR. Freel was never better than an average hitter. Same with Gentry. But, statistically, they show up as excellent baserunners, and elite defenders. If the Orioles think Rickard is strongly positive in those two areas, he’d have to do surprisingly little at the plate to be a regular. If he’s something less than Freel or Gentry, the offensive bar goes up. You’d want some help at the position. Maybe that’s Nolan Reimold. Maybe that’s Kim. You can be impressed by a Rule 5er without over-committing.

Rickard has put himself firmly in the Orioles’ plans. He’s done that through his own play, and he’s done that by way of Kim’s struggles to get going. I don’t think the Orioles expected to get here, but the Rickard surprise has helped offset the very different Kim surprise, and now opening day is looming. I don’t think we can yet conclude that Rickard is going to be a good hitter in the major leagues. Without power, that’s actually almost impossible. It’s more possible for him to be a good player in the major leagues, provided the running and the defense are up to snuff. I can’t tell you very much about those things, but the better Rickard is there, the less he has to do elsewhere. Even as a part-timer, Rickard could help the Orioles try to pass the team that let him go.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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qotsa04
6 years ago

Is this a difference between a smart team and a stupid one?

Jung Ho Kang (2015 ST): 9 for 45 (17 SO)
Hyun Soo Kim (2016 ST): 8 for 44 (6 SO)

Danny Middaugh
6 years ago
Reply to  qotsa04

You have to expect there is going to be a learning curve for these guys that come over right? It’s pretty irrational to expect that they’ll just hit the ground running.

Paul22
6 years ago
Reply to  qotsa04

Especially since Kim went 8 for his last 23 with a 400 OBP. Buck doesn’t like Kimchi or something

tung_twista
6 years ago
Reply to  qotsa04

Nope. It is the difference between statistics and lies.

Kang (2015) AB 45 H 9 2B 2 3B 1 HR 2 BB 4 SO 16
.200/.280/.444 OPS 0.724
Kim (2016) PA 48 AB 44 H 8 2B/3B/HR 0 BB 1 SO 6
.182/.228/.182 OPS 0.411

Add in the fact that Kang is a serviceable SS/above average 3B
while Kim has at best average baserunning and fielding skill as LF,
their spring training performances are not even close.