If you’re amidst an 0-20 slump, and can’t seem to buy a hit, you may have a problem. If you get picked off first base, and haven’t been able to read the movement on a fastball, you may have a problem. If you have a pitcher that can’t locate his 95-mph fastball, and it rides inside often, again, you may have a problem. A dangerous one at that.
Those listed above are examples of problems you do not want to have. Most problems aren’t good, and only lead to lack of production that doesn’t translate into team victories, but for the Orioles, they have a problem on their hands that may not necessarily be a bad thing. Their problem is in the form of a speedy corner outfielder, who leads the club in various offensive categories, and that most people wouldn’t consider a starter. Not to mention he is one of a handful of players that the Orioles must decide to bring north with the team, or keep as depth in the minor leagues. That sounds like a pretty good problem to me.
Joey Rickard, 25, is entering his second season with the Orioles, and he has proven that he can help contribute to the major-league club. Last season, in an injury shortened year, Rickard played in 85 games, finishing with a .268/.319/.377/.696 line, with five HR’s, 13 doubles, and 19 walks. He went down with an injury on July 20, 2016, while trying to catch a ball hit by Yankees’ outfielder Brett Gardner. His right hand slammed into the wall, causing damage to a ligament in his thumb. Rickard was set to miss just four-to-six weeks of action, however a setback in September, while facing live pitching for the first time, caused him to be shut down for the remainder of the 2016 season.
Rickard was determined during Spring Training to prove that he can still be beneficial for the club, and can still swing the bat like he did coming out of Spring Training last season. He has done just that. In 27 games this spring, Rickard (as I wrote a few seconds ago) leads the Orioles [among qualifiers] in batting average (.326), on-base percentage (.492), runs scored (12), and walks (14). He also has hit three home runs this spring, which is tied for first with Trey Mancini, and Chris Johnson.
The offensive numbers are there yet again this spring, but what benefit will Joey Rickard provide for this year’s club?
Seth Smith is expected to be the everyday right-fielder, and Hyun Soo Kim is expected to play every day in left. Both Kim, and Smith have trouble hitting left-handed hitters. Kim had 22 appearances against LHP last season, walked four times, and didn’t get a hit. Seth Smith is a career .202 hitter vs. LHP, and hit .167 last season, and .200 the year prior.
A Rickard-Smith, or Rickard-Kim platoon in either left, or right-field could work in the Orioles favor given that last season Rickard hit .313/.367/.494/.861 in 90 plate appearances vs. LHP. He also brings speed on the bases, and a stable option in either of the corner outfield positions. Last season, he had 127 putouts, and 41 OOZ [plays].
No matter how you look at it, or what you may feel about the former Rule-5 draft pick from the Tampa Bay Rays organization, you can’t deny that Joey Rickard has earned (yet again) a spot on the big-league club. How he will be used can only be assumed, but it should be in a platoon role, being placed in the lineup any time the Orioles face a left-handed starter. You’ll also have that late-inning, pinch-runner situation he could fall into, and can be called upon to man any one of the three outfield positions in the event of an injury.
Joey Rickard is a player that deserves to be on the major-league club next Monday. His versatility, speed, ability to hit left-handed pitching, and dependability with the glove are all traits any manager would want in an everyday outfielder. The problem is, Rickard isn’t an everyday outfielder, and he won’t see at-bats everyday. He’ll be a bench player that can contribute in various roles, and some nights won’t see any action at all. He’ll be the fourth outfielder, and that just might not be a problem after all.