The Orioles need to improve their outfield this offseason, so it wasn’t a surprise that the club selected outfielder Joey Rickard from the Tampa Bay Rays in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft Thursday.
Rickard, 24, gives the Orioles a speedy reserve outfielder who showed strong on-base capabilities in the minors. Players selected in the Rule 5 must remain on the active major league roster for the entire season or must be offered back to their original team.
“He has good on-base capabilities, good skills, he’s got good speed,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said. “He’s an excellent contact hitter, he can steal a base and he’s a good defensive player. He can play center field and left field. … It just looks like he’s learned how to play. He looks like a good solid overall ballplayer. Good discipline of the strike zone and we’re looking forward to taking a look at him in the spring."
Rickard was originally drafted by the Rays in the ninth round in 2012. He hit .321 with a .427 on-base percentage, .447 slugging percentage, two home runs and 55 RBIs in 117 games playing at High-A, Double-A and Triple-A last season. He also stole 23 bases on 29 attempts. Rickard spent the majority of the season at Double-A Montgomery, hitting .322/.420/.479 with 19 steals in 23 attempts in 65 games. He later moved to Triple-A Durham and had success there, hitting .360/.437/.472 in 29 games.
He also hit .282/.341/.454 this offseason in the Dominican Republic, posting 10 doubles, six homers and 29 RBIs in 42 games with Escogido.
“This kid has had a great year,” Duquette said. “He started out in A-ball. He went to Double-A and he did even better in Double-A. He went to Triple-A and he did even better there and at the end of the year, he went to the Dominican and he’s done even better there. He’s one of the best players in the league in the Dominican.”
Three of the Orioles’ previous four Rule 5 picks had been pitchers, but the fact that the club must carry prospect Dylan Bundy on the 25-man roster -- he is out of minor league options -- made it more complicated for the team to hold another inexperienced pitcher. So, instead the Orioles targeted the outfield, another area of need.
“We took a look at some of the outfielders that we thought could help our team,” Duquette said. “We recognized Joey Rickard’s improvement. You look at how he’s trending, he’s trending up. Very rarely do you see a player get moved up as quickly as he’s moved up this year and you can see his skills at every level every step of the way.”
Orioles lose Ji-Man Choi to Angels
The Orioles also lost first baseman Ji-Man Choi to the Los Angeles Angels, who selected the recently signed switch-hitter in the second round of the Rule 5 draft.
The Orioles just signed Choi, a former Seattle Mariners top prospect, to a minor league contract earlier last month with a major league spring training invitation. Choi played in just 97 games the past two seasons because of injuries and a 50-game drug suspension in 2014.
“I was kind of surprised he got drafted to the major leagues, because he was out there a while as a free agent,” Duquette said. “That was a bit of a surprise.”
Orioles take two in minor league portion
In the minor league portion of the draft, the Orioles took right-handed pitcher Cory Jones from the St. Louis Cardinals and left-handed pitcher Chipper Smith from the Miami Marlins during the Triple-A phase.
Jones, a fifth-round pick of the Cardinals in 2012, didn't pitch last season. The 24-year-old went 1-0 with a 7.00 ERA in 18 innings with the Cardinals’ High-A team in 2014.
Smith, 25, was 5-7 with a 4.39 ERA splitting his time between the Marlins' Double-A and High-A teams last season. He was a 38th-round pick by the Marlins in 2012.
Orioles lose three minor leaguers
In the Triple-A portion of the draft, the Orioles lost three minor leaguers. Left-handed reliever Adam Kolarek was selected by the Rays, catcher David Freitas was taken by the Chicago Cubs and right-hander Santiago Garrido was selected by the Detroit Tigers.
Kolarek, a Catonsville High and University of Maryland product, was 2-4 with a 4.43 ERA in 67 innings with the New York Mets’ Double-A team this past season. The Orioles signed him in the offseason and assigned him to Double-A Bowie.
Freitas, who was the player to be named in the trade that sent Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics following the 2013 season, hit .241/.299/.387 in 75 games at Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. He was on the Bowie roster.
Garrido didn’t pitch in affiliated ball in 2015, last pitching with the Kansas City Royals’ Double-A club in 2014, going 1-3 with a 3.41 ERA in 58 relief innings.