As a Rule 5 pick, Joey Rickard will be given plenty of opportunities to showcase his worth to the Baltimore Orioles in spring training. To wit, he currently leads the team in spring-training at-bats and has played in seven of the team’s eight games, absent only from a split-squad tilt. Despite having played in only 29 games at the Triple-A level, the 24-year-old outfielder has acquitted himself well so far. Rickard is batting .263 with two doubles.
The Orioles have had success with their Rule 5 picks in recent years, managing to keep and squeeze some productivity out of Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland, and Jason Garcia. Rickard could fall in line with that trio if he is able to make the roster. For the Orioles, the decision of whether or not to keep Rickard could be made a bit more difficult due to the status of Dylan Bundy, who cannot be optioned to the minor leagues. After years of health problems and physical setbacks, the former top pick will have to be brought along slowly, and could complicate things in the bullpen for Buck Showalter.
Essentially keeping two Rule 5 picks on the 25-man roster could prove unwieldy for the Orioles, a team who has adeptly operated a shuttle system between Triple-A Norfolk and the big club during the run of successful seasons from 2012 to 2015. A bullpen slot and a fifth outfielder slot occupied by unmovable players would tie the front office’s hands in a significant way.
The Orioles are not without options if Rickard cannot prove his worth in spring training. L.J. Hoes possesses many of the same attributes as Rickard. He can run, draw a walk, and plays acceptable defense. Both are right-handed batters. Dariel Alvarez is another similar player, although he may not give the Orioles as much off the bench as a pinch-hitter. If you want a left-handed bat, Henry Urrutia is an option. These three players can be used with greater flexibility than Rickard, who cannot be sent down to the minor leagues without being offered back to the Tampa Bay Rays.
If Rickard makes the roster for Opening Day, he could find himself filling the role held by David Lough last season, providing defense and speed off the bench. With Mark Trumbo and Hyun Soo Kim slated to start in the corners, having a defensive replacement will be of the utmost importance for the Orioles. That is a role that Rickard is cut out to fill, regardless of his readiness to face major-league pitching. The Orioles may also want to keep him and attempt to continue developing him into a starter. He is a high-OBP player who could develop into a serviceable leadoff man. Getting through his Rule 5 season poses the biggest challenge to his future with the Orioles.
Over the remainder of the exhibition schedule, Joey Rickard will have to prove that his skillset is worth more than the flexibility that can be had with the crop of optionable players. Expect Rickard to continue seeing at-bats and innings in almost every single spring-training game from here on out. If he plays well, look for the Orioles to carry a Rule 5 pick once again.