Rare bird: Rickard hopes to stick with O's

Rule 5 Draft pick has unique skill set: bats right, throws left

March 21st, 2016

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles outfielder Joey Rickard is trying to take an unusual path to Major League success.

Yes, Rickard is a Rule 5 Draft pick. But beyond that, he is a position player who bats right-handed and throws left-handed -- in other words, a true oddity. Rickard also happens to be enjoying a strong spring for Baltimore, putting him in position to have a shot at making the Opening Day roster.

"It would be a dream either way," Rickard said of making it to the big leagues. "But just knowing that you're a guy who took a different route toward it, the way I've played, it's definitely unique and special."

In 2015, outfielders Collin Cowgill of the Angels, Ryan LaMarre of the Reds and Cody Ross of the A's were the only players to bat right-handed and throw left-handed to appear in the Majors, and they combined for a mere 125 plate appearances. Only two others, Jason Lane and Ryan Ludwick, have debuted since 2000.

Orioles' 40-man roster

In fact, a grand total of 48 position players since 1901 have been righty hitters and lefty throwers, according to baseball-reference.com. Outfielder Carl Warwick is the lone O's player on the list, having played nine games for the club in 1965. Meanwhile, just seven of those players logged 800 or more games, three made an All-Star team, and only Rickey Henderson is a Hall of Famer.

By contrast, there were 114 lefty-hitting, righty-throwing position players last season, including stars such as Bryce Harper, Joey Votto and the Orioles' Chris Davis. After all, lefty hitters have the platoon advantage more often and get a head start out of the batter's box, while righty throwers can play any position on the field. Lefties are almost always limited to first base or the outfield.

"I definitely didn't choose the easy combination at all," Rickard said. "It's challenging."

Rickard always has been ambidextrous, something he said comes from his mother, a former college track athlete. He throws a football and shoots a basketball right-handed, but he dribbles better left-handed and also eats and writes with his left.

"It's really just like flipping a coin for me," Rickard said.

Rickard used to switch-hit, but his left-handed swing was much less effective, and he ditched it by the time he was in high school. Because he pitched growing up, he became a stronger thrower as a southpaw, and then in college at the University of Arizona, he became a full-time position player, leaving him with a rare combination.

Only for a brief period of Rickard's career did he not stand alone.

The Rays selected Rickard in the ninth round of the 2012 Draft out of Arizona, and his first stop on the Minor League ladder was at Class A Hudson Valley of the New York-Penn League. It just so happened that two of his teammates on that '12 team, Deshun Dixon and Marty Gantt, also were right-handed-hitting, left-handed-throwing outfielders. But otherwise, Rickard can't remember ever suiting up with or against another player like him.

"I didn't know how rare it was until the other day, when somebody told me about it," he said. "It's definitely something different, and something people usually remember me by -- as that odd guy."

Now Rickard has a shot to become notable for more.

The O's must keep Rickard on the active roster all season, or else offer him back to the Rays. It just so happens the club has a need for a backup outfielder who can handle center and add a speed element, and Baltimore has a recent history of Rule 5 Draft picks sticking on the roster -- Ryan Flaherty, Jason Garcia, T.J. McFarland.

With the Rays last year, Rickard batted .321/.427/.447 with two homers and 23 steals between three levels, reaching Triple-A Durham. He leads the Orioles in plate appearances this spring, going 15-for-42 (.357) with four doubles, a homer, five walks and three steals.

"He's engaged every day," O's manager Buck Showalter said after Rickard picked up a pinch-hit single and stole a base against the Rays on Sunday. "He walks in here every day trying to make the club, trying to impress, and he's not going to leave anything on the table. He's going to do everything in his power to present somebody you want to keep."