We all know Joey Rickard has been a revelation for the Orioles.
He’s the first player to make his big league debut on Opening Day and start his club’s first 20 games since Atlanta’s Jason Heyward in 2010, according to Elias. He’s the first Oriole to do that since second baseman Marv Breeding in 1960.
Rickard’s become a mini-sensation around Charm City this month for his ability to lead off and play excellent outfield defense. He also has young female fans swooning — in a Brian Roberts’ kind-of-way — while Orioles manager Buck Showalter says he thinks Rickard sort of looks like a modern-day James Dean.
Rickard’s three-run homer Wednesday night – the only runs scored by the Orioles in a victory at Tampa Bay that allowed them to escape a sweep – adds to that mystique.
Remember, this is a guy the Orioles took out of the Rays’ system as part of the Rule 5 draft in December, meaning the offensively-deficient Rays didn’t think he was worthy of a 40-man roster spot.
And he’s now Joey Rickard, Cult Hero.
Well, I wanted to make sure this viewing prism wasn’t tinted exclusively orange and black. So when I spoke to two scouts from other organizations this week, I got their thoughts on Rickard, who I like to jokingly refer to as “2016 AL MVP Joey Rickard.”
The scouts aren’t buying that hyperbole. But, yes, they are buying “The Joey Rickard Show.”
“He’s really made a believer out of me. I saw him in spring training and liked him a little bit,” one scout said. “It now looks to me like he is a legitimate, everyday guy.”
The scout makes an interesting comparison to Rickard. It’s one Orioles fans will love, though it’ll bring back slightly bad memories.
“I know he is a right-handed hitter and not a lefty, but I would compare his athleticism to Steve Finley,” the scout said. “He has a real live, wiry body, good bat speed and he battles his ass off at the plate. He could have a bad swing at a pitch, but it never seems to get him down. He’s shown a little bit of pop and he can drive a pitch to gaps pretty well.”
Finley, if you don’t remember, was drafted by the Orioles in 1987 and spent two years in the majors with them before being part of the ill-fated Glenn Davis deal with Houston in 1991 that also sent Curt Schilling and Pete Harnisch to the Astros.
Finley had a 19-season career in the majors, winning four Gold Gloves and making two All Star teams. So, yeah, Orioles’ fans should be most content with that comparison.
Another scout I talked to also has been impressed with Rickard’s first month in the big leagues, and thinks the 24-year-old can stick in the majors.
“I like him. He’s a baseball player. We don’t see guys like him very often anymore,” the scout said. “He plays the game like you are supposed to. He’s an energetic baseball player who makes adjustments. If he gets behind the count with two strikes, he shortens his stroke and hits the ball to right field. He has a real contact approach. He’s not a speed merchant, but he is an above average runner who knows how to run the bases. He may run into 10 home runs before the year is out and you can’t play him cheap in right field because he’ll hit the ball into the gaps. His baseball IQ seems to be off the charts.”
OK, so given all of that, why was he available to the Orioles with the 15th pick of the Rule 5 draft? Not only did Tampa Bay not protect him, but 14 other teams didn’t grab him, including the one scout’s club. The answer, that scout said, is that guys without one major tool often slip through and are underappreciated until they get a real chance to prove themselves.
“You probably had scouts that looked at him and thought that he doesn’t really look all that athletic,” the scout said of Rickard, who is listed as 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, but appears a touch smaller. “There’s not a whole lot of power there and his arm is just a tick above average. He’s athletic enough to do some things, but he doesn’t do a whole lot to knock you over. He’s just one of those guys you have to give him the opportunity and see what happens.”