When scouting minor leaguers in person, observers tend to gravitate toward the outstanding athletes like a moth to a flickering flame. They are drawn to the ones who appear to be good at baseball. The ones you can really “dream on,” as they say in scouting circles. The ones who could be something special if everything clicks.
Outfielder D’Vontrey Richardson is that quintessential player with tools galore. He was a five-star recruit on the gridiron coming out of the state of Georgia and eventually served as backup quarterback for the Florida State Seminoles from 2006-2008, so the natural athleticism clearly exists. Thus, it should not be surprising in the least that he is largely considered the best athlete in the Brewers’ system. Big, strong, accurate arm. Above-average speed. Potential for power.
Tools and athleticism do not necessarily translate into usable baseball skills, however, especially for a player like D’Vontrey who is behind in the development curve due to his previous football focus. In 2010, Richardson only hit .239/.328/.364 for Class-A Wisconsin in his first professional season with seven home runs and 164 strikeouts.
Still, the potential showed itself in glimpses. The bullet throws from the center field warning track to third base. The eight triples. The upward swing near the end of the season. It all gave fans — as well as the organization — hope that the 23-year-old would blossom with more refinement by the coaching staff and simply more experience on the diamond.
Things improved during the 2011 season. He missed some time due to various ailments — namely hip and vision issues — but ultimately hit .284/.327/.384 with High-A Brevard County in a difficult offensive environment. The overall approach at the plate greatly improved. His strikeout rate dropped from 27.7% to 17.9% in a single year. He shortened his swing and consciously sought to improve his command of the strike zone. Naturally, that caused his power numbers to dip (only a .100 ISO), but he should be a gap-hitter with 10-15 home run potential down the road if everything continues to come together.
Ultimately, D’Vontrey Richardson is still learning the game of baseball. His instincts are not as developed as other 23-year-olds in the minor leagues because he did not focus on baseball for the majority of his athletic career. It is depicted in his stolen base success rate, his first step in the outfield, and his inability to recognize breaking pitches. For example, I’ve seen him almost fall down in the outfield because he got turned around so badly on a ball over his head.
The light bulb above his head is flickering, though. The statistical signals continue to trend in the correct direction, and the corresponding tools are still tantalizing. His ceiling is a legitimate starting center fielder with a plus-glove in the outfield. He can set the table with his speed and even provide modest pop at the plate with his natural strength. The problem is that his current skills are not near his ceiling, but the improvements from 2010 to 2011 cause some to think that D’Vontrey is poised for a breakout season in 2012.
The good news is that Richardson should be leaving Space Coast Stadium, where he only hit .223/.278/.264 last season. He is expected to begin his season with Double-A Huntsville and share the outfield with Kentrail Davis and Khris Davis.