Sunday, March 23, 2014

Nick Rickles prepares for the Ports (Q&A)

Set to form a tandem with Bruce Maxwell for the second consecutive campaign, Nick Rickles seems poised to finally ascend past the Midwest League after his two season confinement within Burlington and Beloit, as the 24 year old defensive specialist is considered one of the Athletics most underrated catching prospects entering his fourth MiLB attempt out of Stetson. The sturdy 6'3", 220 pound Floridean stands at a height traditionally unseen in backstops, but Rickles isn't frail physically, having filled quite nicely into large frame. Defensively exquisite, Rickles has thrown out 43% of potential basestealers throughout his minor league career, having only permitted three passed balls between 74 contests behind the plate during his most recent 2013 Snapper stint as well; demonstrating that his performance while orchestrating contests has propelled him through the Midwest League thus far. Offensively, Rickles' discipline admittedly requires some tweaking, as his career .254/.294/.378 slash between his 869 PAs is less than desirable with a mere 43 cumulative walks drawn (4.9% BB%). Regardless, Rickles' transition towards the California League ought to bode well for the Fort Lauderdale resident, as his July breakthrough during the previous campaign illustrates the potentiality he possesses and very well could flash for the Ports. 

Initially having been assigned to the AZL, Rickles contributed within the Papago facility upon his professional debut, going 7-23 with a pair of doubles and triples to coincide with four strikeouts and three walks to immediately be flown to Vermont to conclude his debut Athletics entry. With the Lake Monsters, Rickles kept his feverish pace in tact as he compiled a .310/.364/.441 line with a 12:24 BB/K, .131 ISO and corresponding 131 wRC+ within his brief 166 PA stay to definitively carve himself out a Burlington roster post for the 2012 season. However, Rickles found it difficult to acclimate to full season repetiores throughout his Iowa debut, floundering through the campaign offensively as his BABIP was completely stagnant (.260) within his 372 plate appearance sample size in what would produce a paltry 63 wRC+, 17:73 BB/K and a .220/.257/.328 slash as his Stockton aspirations were temporarily thwarted and was consequently reassigned to Oakland's MWL affiliate, now housed in Wisconsin, to service as the reserve asset to Bruce Maxwell. Prior to the 2013 campaign, Rickles would participate upon the Israeli WBC squad alongside Jeff Urlaub, former Stockton rotation member, Max Perlman, and Nate Freiman. While Freiman obliterated the Spanish and South African competition in a 5-12, 2 BB, 4 HR (.417/.500/1.417) three game stint, Rickles serviced as the backup within his first World Baseball Classic appearance, unfortunately only appearing in one contest against Spain as a defensive replacement in what would ultimately result in Israel's elimination. After a brief stint as a momentary cog in Midland as an injury replacement, even going 2-4 in his AA debut, Rickles would settle into the Midwest once more and would be presented with a similar conundrum to his Israel ballclub; seeing as though Rickles was slotted behind Maxwell upon the Snappers depth chart, and only would go 27-149 while appearing in 41 contests prior to July with 8 XBH (.181/.210/.295) as Maxwell would then be promptly packaged to Cailfornia following the All-Star festivities. Now having acquired significant and prolonged opportunities as a starter for the first instance during his campaign, Rickles burst through offensively en route to the most impressive single month within the Athletics system for July, arguably even the most phenomenal thoughout the entire cumulative 2013 season as the revitalized farmhand constructed a .400/.416/.624 line (34-85, 6 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 3 HRs) with 10 of his 22 contests logged in which Rickles recorded multiple base hits, including a 5-5 (2B/HR) outing July 27th versus Quad Cities. He would receive Topps MWL player of the month honors for his exploits and conclude his campaign in optimistic spirits after having finally deciphered Midwest League arsenals as the extraordinarily favorable dimensions of Banner Island Ballpark beckon for the improved 2011 draftee. While it has been announced Rickles will begin in extended camp, he ought to be immediately slotted in Stockton upon his return, similarly to Beau Taylor in 2012. I spoke with Rickles as March dwindles down and the MiLB slate draws closer to opening day: 

CK: How has the offseason been going for you, Nick? How's everything been down in Arizona thus far?

NR: This offseason was awesome.  I was lucky enough to be invited to go to the Dominican Republic for a three week workout. It was a great experience met a bunch of new people and actually learned some Spanish along the way. Everything in Arizona is going great, just working hard to achieve my goals everyday and I'm very excited to see what this year has to bring!

CK: What was that entire Dominican experience like for you? 

NR: It was a little bit of a culture shock. You don't realize how good you have it in the states until you go somewhere like that. It makes you appreciate what you have and not take a day for granted. Meeting the guys down there was awesome too, they taught me Spanish and I taught them some English.  Some of the guys I met there came over to Spring training this year so it was more welcoming for them as well. I would definitely like to do it again.

CK: Last season was your second consecutive year in the Midwest League after a pitstop in Midland for a couple games. What was the whole experience like with the Snappers and making another postseason appearance after 2012 with Burlington? 

NR: The Snappers team was honestly one of the most amazing teams I've ever played for. It was an honor being able to play with those guys. We had an amazing year with some amazing memories that all of us will cherish forever. Our coaches put us in a great position to win everyday and we represented the A's with class and a winning mentality.  I have to give a shout out to the "Janesville Jets" 

CK: Most memorably about your time in 2013, you had an awesome July in your first month after Maxwell left for Stockton where you wound up being named the Topps POTM in the MWL. How were able to be so successful offensively and maintain that through the entire month? 

NR: During this time the hitting coach, Casey Myers, and I developed a hitting routine that I went through on a daily basis and I think that led to my success.  They say hard work pays off so when I put in the work and got the results I got my confidence at the plate back and my performance showed.

CK: Is there anything specifically you're focusing upon this spring about your offensive performance as this season approaches?

NR: We are focusing more on recognition. Seeing the ball early and making a confident, aggressive move to the ball. I'm working on having a better approach and sticking to it. I want to get my walk numbers up a little this year so staying focused on my pitch and sticking to my zone will be a huge part of my success. 

CK: You're considered one of the better catchers in the organization for your defensive abilities behind the plate. Even with the praise you've received thus far, is there anything specific facet of your defense you're going to be emphasizing entering 2014? For instance, your blocking, receiving, throwing, framing, etc. 

NR: No matter how successful you are there is always room for improvement.  We work during spring on all of those for mentioned skills and I will continue to better myself through out the season. I always want to get better.

CK: You had the opportunity to catch some of Oakland's premier pitching prospects throughout your 2013 stay in Wisconsin between Michael Ynoa, Raul Alcantara, Dylan Covey, Kyle Finnegan, Nolan Sanburn and Seth Streich. What did each of those guys look like to you? 

NR: All of those guys had an amazing season. It's awesome having that pitcher-catcher relationship with each of them and help develop their skills together. We all learned from eachother and had an amazing time working together.  I have to say Raul [Alcantara] having the 10 game win streak was amazing to be a part of and had alot to do with his promotion. I'm looking forward to seeing where everyone gets placed and how well they do this year. Those guys all have bright futures ahead. 

CK: Is there a guy, or a couple guys, on that 2013 Beloit staff who weren't necessarily statistically successful but you really believe in their stuff/potential?

NR: Most of the guys we had in Beloit had great statistics and that showed in us winning our first half. But a guy that sticks out to be is Tyler Vail.  He is working on some new stuff this year and building on what he did last year and he looks impressive. Seth Streich is another guy I can't wait to see pitch this year. His velocity and accuracy has improved as well as the commitment. Both of them work extremely hard.

CK: You seem to have a good opportunity to make your California League debut with Stockton this season. Anything in particular you're expecting about the Cal League? 

NR: All I keep hearing is its a hitters league so I would be very excited to hit there. On the other hand catching can be frustrating when u have to call a game in an atmosphere like that. So I'll have to learn as we go, hopefully quickly, once we get there.

CK: Lastly, what are your goals as entering your third full MiLB season? What do you hope to reflect upon once September rolls around? 

NR: I just want to be more consistent this year hitting. Not necessarily statistically, but the consistency of having good at bats day in and day out. Plus continuing to improve my catching skills and have a playoff bound team. I want to have a chance to bring a ring home at the end of this year.



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