LAKE WALES, FL- I couldn’t find Ronnie Richardson on Tuesday night. I’d seen him play center field in the past, so I assumed that’s where he’d be. But Richardson was nowhere to be seen in the outfield during Lake Region High’s pregame.
I figured out soon enough that he was on the infield, but still wasn’t sure whether he was the third or the second baseman. Both were about 5’6”, dark-skinned, with solid builds. It turned out the second baseman was his younger brother and Ronnie was the guy who was really picking it at third.
Having never before seen him on the infield, Richardson impressed me with very good hands, quick reflexes, and smooth transfers. He handled everything in the pregame in such a manner that I could project him as a plus hot corner defender on what I saw there alone. His actions were short and quick, which is just what you want at the sport’s most reactionary position.
It turned into a rout as Lake Region defeated a good Lake Wales team 13-3. Richardson would come to the plate five times, going 2-3 with a double, a hit-batsmen, and a walk.
Measured 5’6” by the Major League Scouting Bureau last August, Richardson has a unique body for a prospect. They weighed him at 171 lbs at the time, but I would estimate he’s 180 now. Richardson is very broad-shouldered (with slope), tapered down to a comparatively small waist. He’s well-sculpted in his lower half, but not thick or particularly prone to excess weight.
There’s no present major league comparison. Richardson doesn’t look like Chone Figgins or Dustin Pedroia or David Eckstein.
One scout mentioned former Florida Marlins speedster Chuckie Carr with the caveat that Carr was 2-3 inches taller. That’s as close as it gets and it took going back ten years.
At the plate, Richardson crouches into a square stance from the right side. He gives little load with his hands before beginning his swing, and that concerns me in the future against major league breaking balls if he doesn’t adjust.
He did double off of a high school curveball in his last at-bat, pulling the inside hanger over the left field line. Richardson generates 40 bat-speed that will project to 50-55 with good extension and a fairly short path to the ball. Richardson takes a big swing for the most part, he’s not a bat-handler as much as he’s an attacker. He pulled all three balls he put into play on Tuesday.
I don’t see Richardson ever hitting for power. Though he has the frame to become very strong in spite of his short stature, the ball just doesn’t jump off his bat. It’s not something you can always predict by looking at a kid’s musculature or size. There are skinny kids who smoke it and thick kids who poke it.
He has a good idea of the strike zone and battles on every pitch. He’s also well-balanced at the plate. With continued hard work and perhaps five years of seasoning in pro ball, I can envision him hitting .280-.300 in the big leagues in the best case scenario. An added dimension is his basestealing gear; Richardson could turn into a 30+ steal guy.
His running times were nothing special today (4.60 and 4.69 seconds on turns), but you might as well have thrown away the stopwatch. Richardson takes a wide turn around the bag and he doesn’t get out of the box particularly well. From mere observation, I grade him as a 65 runner. (Richardson ran a laser-timed 6.44 60 yard-dash at our 2008 National Showcase in Minnesota.) His first step is very good. He was actually left for dead on a pickoff in the second inning, but took off and stole second so quickly that neither the Lake Wales shortstop nor the second baseman ran to cover the bag. It was bizarre, it was like they were too stunned to react.
In the seventh inning, Richardson stole third base easily after his double.
He would play two other positions in the sixth inning. First Richardson came into pitch and had a disastrous outing on the mound. Hardly used as a pitcher this year, Coach Bill Bullock decided he could get him acclimated to the bullpen by throwing him into a blowout. Lake Region was leading 9-1 at the time, but Richardson walked three batters in a row and then threw a wild pitch to bring in a run. He was taken out and one more run scored that was charged to him.
Richardson showed a very athletic delivery, a live arm, and a good stroke. Without a gun, I estimated his fastball velocity at 86-90 MPH and his curve 70-73 MPH. But Richardson couldn’t throw a strike.
When he was relieved, Richardson moved to center field where he didn’t have any chances. For the seventh, he was back at third base.
I was curious to see him pitch, but not necessarily because I thought he’d be a pitching prospect. I wanted to see how he would compete in an uncomfortable setting.
Richardson had a horrible outing, but his body language was okay and to me it seemed like he would have stayed out and battled if his coach actually let him.
Richardson hit the next half inning, in the top of the seventh, and knocked out the double. Then in the bottom of the seventh, back at third base, Richardson made a very good play charging a slow grounder and gunning it to first off-balance for the out. He showed plus body control and athleticism on that play.
A lot of players, even big leaguers, will get so down after failure that they can’t produce immediately afterwards. Sometimes one error turns into a bunch more. But Richardson showed me mental toughness by the way he responded to his failure on the mound. He kept his cool, went back to work, and got it back for his team.
So what position does Richardson project at? I’d seen him play the outfield in the past and graded him out as a future plus center or rightfielder. I’ve given him a 60 arm for his line-drive throws and a present average radar and range. His instincts for the outfield are fine.
But now, I’m more intrigued by him as an infielder. As a speed and hit-for-average guy (if he turns out), he is more the prototype for second base than third, but that’s never mattered to me personally. It depends on who plays beside him. Tampa Bay Ray Aki Iwamura was a third baseman in 2007 who moved to second base in 2008 for Evan Longoria. He was outstanding in both spots and without Longoria, the Rays would have been fine with him staying at the hot corner.
Just the same, I think Richardson could be above-average at both defensively. He even has a chance to play a solid shortstop, if he gets the repetitions. I think the tools are all there. His throws don’t carry as well from the infield as they do from the outfield, but I can project him to become a solid-average infield thrower.
The fact he is athletic and can play all of these positions gives him more of a chance to play in the big leagues one day. If I’m a farm director, I encourage the versatility in case he doesn’t hit enough to be an everyday player. Players like Chone Figgins and Ben Zobrist have become invaluable for their abilities to play both the infield and the outfield positions.
Richardson has signed with the University of Central Florida and he’s a potential freshman starter if he ends up a Golden Knight. Richardson is getting interest in the draft, but I’m not sure how many teams are looking past the size. If he’s signable, I will not be surprised if he goes 5th round or earlier.
OTHER LAKE REGION-LAKE WALES NOTES: Lake Wales has an interesting sophomore centerfielder in Colton Davis. He hits and throws right, and has a slope-shouldered 6-2, 175 frame reminiscent of a younger Chipper Jones. Davis is a plus runner right now with big strides and a future average arm. He struggled with his routes, especially when moved to right field later in the game; Davis misjudged a ball hit over his head. The bat-speed isn’t there yet, but Davis has a smooth swing and loose body, so I give the bat a chance…. Lake Wales sophomore shortstop Devon Lopez is another one for the early 2011 follow list. He showed very smooth actions at shortstop, though at this point his arm-strength is well below major league average. The lanky 6-1, 160 righthanded hitter looks like a future second baseman. He’s not strong enough to generate big league bat-speed right now, but maybe in a couple years.