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Tampa Bay Rays Mailbag: Where Does Joey Rickard Stand As a Prospect?

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Welcome back to the RCG Mailbag, the place where we take those burning Tampa Bay Rays questions on your mind and give you answers.

The easiest way to submit a question is to fill out this Google form. Otherwise, you can comment on any of our posts here or on Facebook, email us at rayscoloredglasses at gmail dot com, or tweet me @RobbieKnopf. If you could start any question with “for the mailbag,” that would make things especially easy for me.

Ryan asks: What are your thoughts on Joey Rickard‘s prospect standing? Me personally, I’ve been a big fan of him ever since the Rays drafted him, and have him right up with Powell in terms of value. He has similar strong on-base skills, hits for average very well, has pretty good speed and uses it on the bases well, and has shown more power than Powell thus far. Only thing I don’t know about is defense, but I remember he was pretty good when they drafted him, and he has the speed to make it work at least in the corners. What with his current hot streak at AAA, has he raised his prospect value at all this year to a point where he can be considered a legit prospect?

Joey Rickard has been one of the best stories in the Rays system this year after a disastrous 2014. To recap how he got to this point, the Rays made Rickard, who notably bats rights while throwing lefty, their ninth round pick in 2012 after he helped Arizona to a College World Series championship, and he played well at Short Season-A in his pro debut. Then, after he kept looking good at Low-A and in the Australian Baseball League in 2013, the Rays decided to promote him aggressively last season, skipping him over High-A to the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits. He had a chance to establish himself as a legitimate prospect, but unfortunately he failed.

In 2014 with the Biscuits, Rickard hit to just a .243/.337/.296 line in 247 plate appearances before an ankle injury ended his season in July. His on-base skills continued to be fine as he walked 28 times against 39 strikeouts, but he couldn’t hit the ball with any authority and that looked like it would be the undoing of his career. It appeared that Rickard was going to be simply an organizational player when the Rays started him not at Double-A but at High-A to start 2015. Repeating a level is bad, but doing back to a previous level usually means that it’s time to give up on a player’s future.

Rickard, though, is turning out to be a major exception to that rule. He rebounded at High-A Charlotte, hitting to a .268/.436/.310 line in 94 plate appearances, and while he still wasn’t hitting for any power, he had shown enough plate discipline (13-20 strikeout to walk ratio) to get back to the Biscuits. He returned with a vengeance, hitting to a .322/.420/.479 line as he added power (19 doubles, 6 triples, and 2 homers) to his on-base skills (42-39 K-BB), and speed (19 steals in 23 attempts). His turnaround was complete when his promoted to Triple-A Durham, and he is 12 for his first 29, a .429 batting average.

There are a lot of great things to say about Rickard, but now it’s time to get realistic about his prospect status. One thing we can say for sure is that Rickard has gone from a nobody back into a player with a big league future. He has come a long way in a span of one year. At the same time, though, Rickard was described as a potential fourth outfielder when he was drafted–you can look back at my write-up of him from after the 2012 draft–and it is unclear whether we have sufficient evidence to think that he can be anything more than that.

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We have to be careful comparing Rickard with Boog Powell because Rickard is nearly two years older. Powell has zoomed through the minors while Rickard has ended up on a more conventional development path. Powell is the better prospect even though Rickard has played better because he is a stronger defender in centerfield and has a lot more room for improvement. We know about their similarities as players–great on-base skills, little power, great speed, strong defense in left field–but Powell will have more time to get the power into a manageable range and turn into a prolific basestealer rather than just a good one. Both of them profile as backup outfielders right now, but Powell still has a chance to make the improvements necessary to be a starter.

We can look at Rickard’s doubles and triples, but it stands out that he only has 2 home runs in his breakout season. Plate discipline is always great, but it means less when pitchers can challenge you with strikes knowing that your power is limited. Rickard can hit some balls to the gaps, but it’s unlikely that he will ever develop over-the-fence power at this point. That is especially concerning given that Rickard is fast but is not a burner and doesn’t have a good arm. He is a strong defensive left fielder, but he’s below-average in center and isn’t a great fit for right.

Joey Rickard’s upside is something like a healthier Brandon Guyer with a little less power. I would say that Rickard has better on-base skills, but Guyer’s incredible talent at getting hit by pitches makes up the difference. Guyer has been an excellent backup outfielder for the Rays, hitting left-handed pitching extremely well and even being serviceable against righties. At times, Guyer has gotten regular playing time and performed so well that people have been clamoring for him to start. But at the end of the day, Guyer can only profile as a starter in center, and his defense isn’t good enough there for such a role to make sense.

Guyer already has limited power, and saying that Joey Rickard has less than that limits what he can become. That being said, don’t complain because Rickard is basically reaching his upside. He can be a good platoon outfielder who hits lefties well and can be a capable fill-in against right-handed pitching. If you had asked the Rays in June of 2012 whether they would have taken that from Rickard, that would have absolutely said yes. Though Rickard has broken out, he had already fallen far enough that instead of turning him into a potential starter, his resurgence has simply gotten him back to being the player he was always supposed to be. He still isn’t a great prospect, but there is nothing wrong with that given where he started and how low expectations were entering this year.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: More Power From Jake Bauers

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