The Oakland Athletics have had a good reputation for developing catchers in their Minor League system. Billy Beane previously brought in prospects Derek Norris from the Washington Nationals and Stephen Vogt from the Tampa Bay Rays, and the organization turned them into All-Stars. Former Athletic and current Toronto Blue Jays’ superstar Josh Donaldson also came up through the organization not as a third baseman, but as a catcher. Now, there’s another name rising up the catching ranks in Oakland: Nick Rickles.
Rickles was a 14th round pick for the Athletics in the 2011 Amateur Draft, out of Stetson University. He was scouted as a natural catcher with above-average power, with the potential of one day making a big league roster. In the minors, he is a career .252 hitter with 18 home runs and 124 RBI over the course of 3 1/2 professional seasons. His defense has also been impressive, having only committed 25 errors in 233 games behind the plate, as well as throwing out 145 would-be base-stealers. Rickles began the 2015 campaign playing for the High-A Stockton Ports. In early July, however, he was called up to the Double-A Midland Rockhounds. He had been with Midland once before, in 2013, and was poised to start the next season even higher up the ranks.
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But at the beginning of 2014, Rickles suffered a major setback. He tore his labrum in spring training, and subsequently sat out the remainder of the year rehabbing his throwing shoulder from the injury.
After a full year of recovery, Rickles admittedly was itching to get back on the field. Now healthy, he remains one of the Athletics’ organization’s top defensive catchers. He keeps runners honest, combining a good arm with a strong pickoff move. In Stockton this year, Rickles threw out 46 percent (17 of 37) of potential base stealers, a slight improvement over his career mark of 42 percent. He calls solid games behind the plate, and he handled the Ports’ pitching staff well – something he should continue to do in Midland.
The Athletics are hoping Rickles’ offense follows suit. He batted .227 in Stockton and walked just once in 128 at-bats. In an interview on Scout.com, Rickles said it took him awhile to get his timing back at the plate post-surgery. Midland Rockhounds manager Ryan Christenson said that in order for Rickles to take his next step, he’ll need to refine his strike zone because he was being a little over aggressive in Stockton.
If he can find a consistent stroke at the plate, look for Rickles to continue moving up the organization’s ladder. Catchers usually take longer than other players to develop due to the nature and responsibility of the position. Just take Stephen Vogt for example, who spent many seasons blossoming in the minor leagues before making his big league debut at age 27. Rickles, who is just 24, is on the right track and in the right organization to develop into a major league catcher in the long term. But for now, he is more focused on the short term.
"“I need to continue doing what got me here… to get through this year healthy and continue to stay healthy in the coming years,” he said in the Scout.com interview."