Trevor Richards Could Be Marlins’ Next Ace

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On this date two years ago, Trevor Richards was finishing up his second season with the independent league Gateway Grizzlies and was spending his time applying for hourly jobs off the playing field to fill his time and monetary requirements. According to Richards, this was a regular offseason practice.

“I was just looking for some sort of money,” Richards told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “You don’t make enough to not work in the offseason. Every offseason, I had to get a job.”

One day during that search, Richards’ phone rang. The caller had a job offer for Richards but it probably wasn’t the one he was expecting. Regardless, by the end of said call, Richards had accepted his first professional on-field gig with Miami.

Richards made 11 total appearances for Marlins’ affiliated teams in 2016, holding down a 2.48 ERA with a 53/18 K/BB in 53 IP between short season ball and low A. However, with more to prove even within Miami’s thin system, Richards erred on the side of caution and kept his options off the playing field open.

“He was sitting at my place all day for two days, and after that he said to me, ‘I gotta do something,’” Richards’ new fiance Aunna Beckemeyer told ESPN.

After throwing his last game of 2016 with the Greensboro Grasshoppers on September 5, Richards reported to work at MillerCoors Brewery where he served as a gift shop attendant all offseason long, through the New Year and right up to training camp.

“The pay was $9 an hour on the nose,” Richards said. “I won’t forget that. Only got overtime on Christmas.”

Come 2017, in quite possibly the staunchest promotion in employment history anywhere, Richards went from being a part-time gift shop cashier to being a full-time MLB-affiliated pitcher.

That season, Richards split time between A+ Jupiter and AA Jacksonville, holding down a collective 2.53 ERA by way of a 1.03 WHIP and 158/30 K/BB. This was where Richards made his terrific control and command tools very well known. His 6.75 K/BB led all Florida State League hurlers who tossed a minimum of 70 IP. Despite making the difficult jump to AA midseason, that figure barely fell to 4.28 in his 75.1 IP for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, 7th best in the Southern League. Thirteen of Richards’ 25 starts we’re of the quality variety. His best outing came on 7/19/17 when he struck out a career high 10 over 7 shutout frames (3 H, 1 BB) in his fourth AA start against the Biloxi Shuckers.

After an impressive spring training campaign in which he held down a 0.75 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 12 IP, Richards earned a spot in the Opening Day rotation. Save a lights out 7 IP on just two hits against the Pirates on April 14, Richards’ first month in the majors was a bit of a wake-up call. With a 4.94 ERA via a 1.52 WHIP in his first 23.2 IP, Richards was optioned to AAA in favor of a healthy Martin Prado.

Richards would go on to spend exactly a month with the New Orleans Baby Cakes. In those 30 days, he received the attention necessary that would not only garner him the mindset to gain penultimate confidence in his stuff but to also throw with 100% conviction. This led to an uptick in fastball velo. When all was said and done, Richards went from a guy who would barely touch 90 upon his signing with Miami to an on-average thrower of 91 MPH and frequent 92-93 MPH heat. The four-seamer has also gained a touch of late arm-side life. These days, the Richards moving heat sits at an average of 91.3 MPH and that figure is rising every time he takes the mound. According to Quality Of Pitch Average, a metric which aims to assign a rating between 1-10 to a pitch based on break, velo and location, Richards’ fastball ranks within the top 33% in all of baseball.

Far and away though, Richards’ bread and butter pitch is the changeup.

On the year, Richards’ changeup is generating swings 60% of the time and is leading to whiffs 25.3% of the time. Both of those figures lead the league (among qualified pitchers with at least 100 IP). Accordingly, Richards’ changeup is carrying a 13.6 runs above average rating (his next closest competition among the same qualifiers is Zack Greinke who holds a 10.2 wCH) and a 4.43 QOPA, the third best changeup in baseball, behind Greinke (4.91) and Luis Castillo (4.44).

While it was a pitch that was scouted as playing up to MLB talent while he was coming up through the Marlins’ system, it was seldom thought that the Richards changeup would be rubbing proverbial elbows with that belonging to a former Cy Young winner or that it would be more effective than the versions of the pitch belonging to the potential winners of the award in both leagues this season, Jacob DeGrom and Chris Sale. Richards has done that. When the Marlins signed Richards, although there was clear and present talent in his arm, it couldn’t have been anything more than a very distant thought that Richards would wind up becoming the fastest Marlins starter to eclipse the 100 K Mark. Thanks to the changeup, Richards has done that in just 103 innings pitched.

“I don’t think anyone realized quite how good that changeup was,” Don Mattingly said this past Monday. “It’s really the pitch that sets him up and sets up other pitches.”

The only two Marlins rookie pitchers to reach 100 Ks faster than Richards are relievers Kyle Barraclough (2016) and Matt Mantei (1998).

Richards surpassed the 100 K mark so quickly thanks in part to two 9+ K performances. The first, a 10 K effort, came in a 4.2 IP outing vs the Dodgers on April 25. The second, a 9 K effort, came two starts ago in a 5.1 IP outing. In that game, Richards became the sixth Marlins pitcher to record two or more 9+ K games in his first 20 appearances. In so doing, he joined some more prestigious company, including the aforementioned Jose Fernandez.

The owner of an unlucky .310 BABIP due to the -13 RAA defense that is being played by a behind him, Richards peripherals, as he is, stand to improve as the talent behind him such as Monte Harrison, Brian Miller, Tristan Pompey, James Nelson etc., reach fruition and become his teammates in Miami. Each of those names projects as at least a plus defender.

As he is right now, Richards is a more than adequate middle-rotational piece. However, with an elite pitch (the changeup) already to his credit and his fastball velo ticking in the positive direction, the Marlins believe the 25-year-old is just one tool away from pulling it all together, becoming the team’s next bonafide ace and leading the rotation into the next decade. That missing link for Richards is an above-average offspeed breaking pitch.

“The development of a breaking ball takes him to another level,” Mattingly said. “The addition of something that goes away from the right handed hitter or goes far enough in to the lefty to make him aware of where the changeup plays or where the fastball on the other side plays.”

Fortunately for Trevor, he has something to build off of. He owns the beginnings of a 12-6 curveball that sits right around 80 MPH. All in all this season, due to the effectiveness of his FB/CH combo, the curve has been a back pocket pitch for Richards. However, upon his return to the big leagues in the month of June, Richards used the pitch at a 20.24% rate and generated whiffs 11% of the time. Recently as the season winds down, Richards has reintroduced the curve in to his in-game repertoire, throwing it more than 10% of the time in two of his last three starts, including 12.8% on August 22 against arguably the best lineup in baseball, the Yankees. Over his last four outings, the pitch is a respectable +1.1 runs above average.

At the behest of his coaches, including Mattingly, we should see Richards continue to work on the curveball over his last few starts of he season. This offseason, the pitch’s progression should be Trevor’s a priori.

If Richards can leap from Indy ball to an MLB rotation after just 44 games in the minors and whilst a big leaguer, quickly make his changeup one of the best pitches in baseball, the possibilities for him this offseason, already with a good third pitch blueprint and with a staff full of professional coaches and facilities at his disposal, are endless.

What’s working more to his advantage is that Richards will be going in to said offseason with more than a bit of a chip on his shoulder, having recently gained his high school sweetheart’s hand in marriage.

With his fate both on and off the field aligning at the same advantageous time, we expect Trevor — who went to better from worse, who isn’t in sickness but in health, and who became baseball rich by experiencing baseball poor — to have and to hold even more lights out stuff next season, the kind of stuff every Marlins fan and executive will love and cherish.

A 2020 rotation anchored by a version of Richards that has three quality pitches followed by the 98-83 velo mix and five pitch arsenal of Sandy Alcantara parlaying into Pablo Lopez, the organization’s third best prospect Nick Neidert and #16 prospect, the swing-and-miss artist Jordan Yamamoto? We like that. And yes, we’d put a (championship) ring on it.

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