Can Joey Rickard Make O’s Roster?
With questions remaining about their outfield depth, the Baltimore Orioles may look to Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard to step up. Rickard, whom the Orioles tabbed from the Tampa Bay Rays in December’s draft, is not only benefitting from the team’s subpar outfield depth but also from joining an organization that has become a haven for Rule 5 selections.
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Since Dan Duquette took over in 2011, the Orioles have selected, or acquired, at least one player in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Of that group, just one—reliever Logan Verrett, a 2014 selection—is no longer with the organization, as previous selections T.J. McFarland, Jason Garcia, and Ryan Flaherty have contributed over the last few seasons. The Orioles have relied on the draft to acquire low-risk, low-cost players who could break through and round out the roster.
The Orioles chose Rickard after his best minor league season, as he batted .321/.427/.447 in 117 games across three levels, including Triple-A. He also stole 23 bases in 29 attempts, while earning high marks for his defense at all three outfield positions.
Given that he has experience at the two highest levels of the minor leagues and will turn 25 in May, it seems that Rickard should be able to contribute. The problem, though, is that expecting him to produce at anything close to his minor league numbers last year—or even his career .390 OBP, for that matter—is a gamble.
For some background, Steve Melewski of MASN reported in December that the Orioles see some value in KATOH, a projection system on FanGraphs that ranks players based on predicted Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) through their age-28 seasons. The basis for the current ranking is player stats for the 2015 minor league season, making it different from traditional prospect rankings that usually blend stats, reports, and analysis. As Camden Depot noted after the Rule 5 Draft, KATOH ranks Rickard’s projected 3.8 fWAR over the next few seasons as 98th among all minor leaguers.
This method puts Rickard in a different light than other publications and rankings, as no other list has mentioned him as a Top 100 Prospect. It should also be noted that after his somewhat sluggish 2014 season at Double-A Montgomery, Rickard’s KATOH stood at just 0.1.
Trying to use a sample of minor league numbers and translate them to major league performances is a tough task, but there is a standard for Rickard that could be reasonably obtained in 2016. With his abilities as a good defender with solid speed and contact skills, he could play a role similar to that of David Lough’s over the previous two seasons.
While speed has not been a major aspect of the Orioles’ game plan over the last few years, the club typically relies on at least one player to be a late-inning pinch-runner/defensive replacement. Before being non-tendered this offseason, Lough filled that spot for the Orioles and while he contributed at times, his triple-slash line of .227/.280/.354 over the 2014 and 2015 campaigns left much to be desired.
Even if Rickard merely matches or falls short of Lough’s offensive production, he would at least represent a slightly better value at the league minimum than what Lough would have earned. (Before he was non-tendered, Lough was estimated to earn $800,000 through the arbitration projections at MLB Trade Rumors).
While Rickard could fit that role, a spot on the Opening Day roster is far from assured. With the free agent market for outfielders dwindling by the day, it is increasingly likely that the Orioles will have to decide among Rickard, Nolan Reimold, L.J. Hoes, Dariel Alvarez, and Henry Urrita for the final outfield and reserve spots. With his experience, Reimold probably has the inside edge, while Hoes looks to be a favorite among at least some Orioles’ officials.
Another player to watch in the competition is Urrita who, like Reimold and Hoes, is out of options. While Urrita has never been able to stick in the majors, he could have an advantage if the Orioles desire a left-handed hitting option. Rickard, Reimold, and Hoes all bat from the right side, ruling out the possibility of a platoon among the group.
Of course, some of these points are moot if the Orioles decide to carry eight relievers because of a separate roster crunch, or if they turn to the market for an outfielder. With their glut of outfielders, the Colorado Rockies remain the Orioles’ most likely trade partner, but whether the Orioles have the organizational depth to pull the trigger on a deal remains to be seen. Outside of Dexter Fowler, the premier free agent outfielders have all been signed, meaning that the options are scarce unless the Orioles decide to throw someone along the lines of Alex Rios, Dominic Brown, or Will Venable into the mix.
In the end, the Orioles’ decision on Rickard could come down to whether his spring is good enough to make the Orioles hesitate to offer him back to the Rays, which would be required if he does not stay on the major league roster all season. Time will tell if Rickard can force that issue, but this Orioles’ regime is one that has been reluctant to return its Rule 5 picks and he could become the next beneficiary of that trend.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, and Loyola University; Spedden has previously spent time in the Washington Nationals organization as a videographer for the Hagerstown Suns. As a blogger, Spedden is an Editor / Writer for the Suns fan club. Additionally, he contributes to The Nats Blog as a prospect writer, and Ballpark Digest. For BSL, Spedden covers the Orioles Minor Leagues.