Sarasota, Fla. — As a host of young outfielders who could be significant parts of the Orioles' future took the spotlight during spring training, a holdover who struggled to hold down a major league spot the past two years has played himself to the cusp of being a major league regular.
Joey Rickard, the one-time Rule 5 draft pick who was a spring training darling in his first year with the club in 2016 but eventually saw his playing time diminish over the ensuing two seasons, has been one of the team's best hitters in spring training. That mitigated some of the sting of the team not breaking camp with the likes of Austin Hays and Anthony Santander. Rickard sees it as a chance to recast himself after one month as an everyday player and so much longer on the fringes.
"I think people get labeled different ways," Rickard said. "I think everybody has the opportunity to change it, but it just starts with doing what you can to help the team win. It starts with the small things, and hopefully, I can be able to do that."
No matter how Rickard, 27, was labeled on the outside — as a platoon player or an up-and-down depth outfielder — he's seen in a different light inside the Orioles organization.
"I think Joey's always been an extremely underrated player, honestly," left fielder Trey Mancini said. "Especially last year, it's kind of tough when you are between Triple-A and the majors. Every time he got into games, I thought he contributed very well and in a positive manner, no matter what. He's a very even-keeled guy. He doesn't let things get him down, and that's why he's had success at the major league level, and that's why he's having success now."
"Joey's just a really talented player, all the way around," designated hitter Mark Trumbo said. "I think he's got virtually every tool, and most of them grade out pretty darn well. I think this spring is reminiscent of maybe '16 a little bit more. His timing at the plate seems to be dialed in. He's got a lot of length through the zone, too. I've seen him get a lot of hits on off-speed pitches, so that's a really good sign. When he's right, he's a very capable hitter against right- and left-handed pitching — especially good against left-handed pitching."
After Rickard lost his everyday role in 2016 and had it turn into a timeshare with fellow rookie Hyun Soo Kim, he became more and more pegged as a platoon player for how well he hit left-handers. Over three seasons, Rickard has hit .284 with a .766 OPS against left-handed pitching and .231 with a .616 OPS versus righties.
He acknowledges that "it's just spring," but 13 of his 15 hits are against right-handed pitching this spring for a .406 average, which could portend an improvement there.
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"I'm just going up there with the same mentality, not overthinking anything and kind of just simplifying and just learning to trust yourself like you've said before," Rickard said. "It's shown a little bit here in spring."
Manager Brandon Hyde has been complimentary of Rickard at the plate, and spoke of how his defensive versatility of being capable of playing all three spots will help the Orioles from a roster construction standpoint. But as of Monday, he hadn't told Rickard he was on the team.
Assuming Mancini is the everyday left fielder and Cedric Mullins plays center, Rickard could play a bulk of right field, with any of Drew Jackson, Dwight Smith Jr. or nonroster invitee Eric Young Jr. complementing and backing up that group.
Trumbo said Rickard's defensive value to the Orioles can't be ignored. He rated as one of the best outfield defenders in baseball in 2017, the last time he received significant major league playing time.
"I think the defense he brings to the table is reminiscent of some of the other teams that have two or three center field-type players out there, so if he's at one of the corners, coupled with either Mullins or somebody with some real speed, there's a lot of coverage out there in the outfield," Trumbo said.
That's always been a given with Rickard, who despite his limited time in the majors is now one of the more seasoned players on the club and is credited by Mancini with setting a tone for spring training and never letting off it.
"He doesn't put too much pressure on himself, and he goes out there and enjoys what he does and plays 100 percent, which is what's been preached here all spring," Mancini said. "I've been really proud of the way that everybody has gone about their business and played in these games. … It can get a little monotonous at times, but everyone's doing an awesome job of staying engaged and playing hard. Joey's been leading the pack in that regard."