Name: Danny Richar
Danny Richar might be the dictionary definition of 'streak hitter.' During the 2005 season while with the Hi-A Lancaster JetHawks Richar had hitting streaks of 10, 8, and 7 games at one time or another. He had three different streaks of four multi-hit games, and hit over .400 the last 10 games of the season.
He also hit .247 in May.
But for a kid who turned 22 during last season and will be entering his fourth season in the Diamondbacks system, a non-drafted free agent with incredible tools who had never really gotten any instruction to speak of until he turned pro, Danny Richar is right on schedule, only now the tracks are blocked.
Like seemingly everyone else in Lancaster last season, Richar got a chance to branch out from his natural position, shortstop. Richar played second base, third base and center field last season, and there's no real way to know where the Diamondbacks plan to use him now. Once again, the additions of Justin Upton and Stephen Drew have thrown another prospect's future into flux, but for once it might not have been the worst thing to happen, not to Danny Richar.
Batting and Power: What makes Danny Richar such an appealing prospect is the very same thing that failed to get him noticed in the first place. His body. At just 5'10" and 155lbs when the Diamondbacks signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, he certainly didn't look like a player who had four solid tools. Five years later he's added two inches, and 15 pounds, to his frame, and as the body starts to fill out, the wicked bat speed that got him what little attention he received, started translating into power.
After hitting a grand total of two homers in his first two season, Richar started showing more pop in '04, where he tallied 16 doubles, four triples and six homers between Lancaster and Double-A El Paso. Last season that potential power became power, as he drove 20 over the fence. The Diamondbacks knew that the body had room to grow, and they were willing to let it happen at its own pace. His offseason workouts have focused on adding another 10 pounds of muscle to a frame that could easily carry another 20, and there is quiet speculation that Richar could end up being a top prospect, at some position, by the end of 2006.
But in order to hit the ball out of the park, Richar has to learn to hit the ball consistently. He has done an impressive job cutting down on his strikeouts (just 64 in 454 at bats in '05, as opposed to 95 in 465 ABs in '04) but still gets pull conscious and ends up grounding the ball to the right side too often. It was no surprise that after Richar apparently turned the corner in July, hitting .327 with four homers, he immediately went south in August, hitting just .278 with eight homers. When he wants the ball to leave the park, things don't go well.
"He was 21 and already had three solid pro seasons under his belt," Diamondbacks Vice President of Scouting Operation Mike Rizzo says, "and he's inconsistent, but lots of guys are going to be at that age."
For Richar the key is finding the balance. With the added muscle the bombs are going to come on their own, hitting the ball hard doesn't mean hitting home runs.
Baserunning and Speed: Richar can flat out fly, when he's at full strength. A series of leg and ankle injuries, none serious, all painful, limited his stolen base total to just nine in '05, after he swiped 24 the season before. He's aggressive to a fault on the bases, something the Diamondbacks are hoping Brett Butler, Lancaster's new manager, can help him address, but as far as pure speed is concerned he's among the top 20 in the D'Backs system.
Playing under control is becoming a theme when talking about Richar, and on the bases is as good as anywhere to start. Being a top notch base stealer is as much a gift as it is learned, but being a great baserunner simply takes discipline, and Richar appears to be slowly developing that.
Defense: This is where Drew/Upton might actually be doing Richar a favor. At one point in the season he led all the minor leagues in errors, and his 32 put him among the leaders overall at the end of the year. Richar has a cannon for an arm, but his footwork has been a thorn in the Diamondbacks side from day one. He tends to throw flat footed far more often than he needs to, and is the type of player that will make a spectacular play, and the muff the routine grounder.
Of course, at second base throwing flat footed is the norm, and the focus can be learned. After Drew signed and claimed the shortstop job, Richar saw extensive time at second base, and that might be his clearest shot to the Majors. His speed led some to believe that center field might be his eventual destination, but that may have been as much about the dearth of center fielders in the D'Backs system as anything Richar showed, and his limited time in the outfield didn't blow anybody away. He still profiles as a middle infielder, and will likely start 2006 playing second.
Projection: Richar debuted in the states in 2002 with the Short Season Yakima Bears, and earned himself a promotion to the Hi-A club that very same year. Unfortunately his defensive woes and streaky bat have kept him in Hi-A ever since. He got a 26 game look at Double-A in '04, but didn't impress, and now has to contend with not just Upton and Drew, but also Emilio Bonifacio and Alberto Gonzales for time in the middle infield. Expect him to return to Lancaster to start '06, but a solid spring could get him an opening day spot on the Double-A Tennessee roster, playing along side Drew. Some have said that Richar, who seemed more comfortable and poised during his time with Drew than he ever had in the D'Backs system, could benefit as much as anyone from watching Drew's preparation and focus on the field, and if he begins to take some of those lessons to heart, he could have an explosive year.
ETA: But his best opportunities may have passed. When he earned the quick promotion to Lancaster back in '02, the Diamondbacks thought they might have their shortstop of the future. Now they know they have their shortstop of the future, and even if they haven't figured out if his name is Justin or Stephen, they are pretty confident it's not Danny. The move to second base was a bright beacon of light for Richar's supporters in the organization, and his hitting skills, which have improved every season, figure to continue their upward swing.
It may be that Richar's best chance to break into the bigs now lies in his value to another organization, but one thing is for sure, there will be plenty of eyes watching if he's playing alongside Stephen Drew in Tennessee. A strong year in '06 would set him up as the man to take over once Orlando Hudson has moved on, but with speculation that Upton might move to second base, Richar will have to prove he deserves the shot before the number one overall pick in the draft. Expect to see him in a big league uniform in 2008, though it might not be a Diamondbacks uni.
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