Right-hander Trevor Richards just needed a chance.
Barely a year after he got it, the 24-year-old Mater Dei graduate was named the Miami Marlins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Richards was 12-11 with a 2.53 ERA in 27 games, including 25 starts, for the high-Class A Jupiter Hammerheads, of the Florida State League, and the Class AA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, of the Southern League. He walked 30 and struck out 158 in 146 innings, allowing just six home runs. Opposing hitters mustered just a .218 average.
“It was a good (summer). I threw the ball well. That was the goal,” Richards said Thursday afternoon from his home in Aviston.
“I don’t think too much about (the award),” he said. “I was excited about it, obviously. It’s a pretty cool thing to have. I’m more ready for next season, really. The offseason is here, and I’ve been working out, getting ready for the season. It’s right around the corner, so I’m just trying to look forward.”
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Richards was promoted to Jacksonville on June 21. He bonded with pitching coach and former big-league pitcher Storm Davis, using his low-90s fastball, changeup and improving curveball to frustrate hitters.
“That’s a big jump from high-A to Double-A, so whenever I got that call at midseason, it was good,” Richards said. “My mindset was to keep doing what I was doing and keep throwing the ball (well). I throw a lot of the same pitches, but it’s learning when to throw pitches, where to throw pitches and reading the hitters’ swings and throwing it where they’re not looking for it.”
Richards was the Marlins’ Pitcher of the Month in June, when he was 4-0 with a 1.66 ERA in four starts at high-Class A Jupiter and one start with Jacksonville. In 27 1/3 innings, Richards walked six, struck out 27 and allowed a .161 average. Richards made the All-Star team with Jupiter.
“I saw a lot better hitting up there in Jacksonville,” Richards said. “It was a little different. High-A was good; it was all pitchers’ parks. Once you get to Double-A, that changes drastically. There’s some good hitters there. It’s a big jump, and I would say I learned a lot form my half-a-season in Double-A.”
Richards had his contract purchased from the Gateway Grizzlies, of the independent Frontier League, on July 3, 2016. He was 0-0 with a 1.69 ERA in three games at short-season Batavia, of the New York-Penn League, then went 2-3 with a 2.68 ERA in eight games, all of them starts, at low-Class A Greensboro, of the South Atlantic League.
Richards was undrafted out of Division II Drury University in Springfield, Mo., from where he graduated in 2015. He ranked second all-time in strikeouts (230), victories (24) and ERA (2.96).
“I didn’t take a direct path to where I am now,” Richards said. “But I’m completely OK with that. I’ve learned a lot of things at the different places. Gateway taught me a lot, and all the way up through the minor-league system. I’ve hit about every level going up. It’s just been good. Every year, every season, every team, I’m developing and learning a little bit more.”
Richards was part of three NCAA tournament teams and two Great Lakes Valley Conference championship squads. He was a three-time all-GLVC selection and was an all-Midwest Region pick.
Despite his success, Richards said he never expected to be drafted out of Drury.
“I kind of knew what was going on,” he said. “A lot of the draft is how hard you throw. I wasn’t too worried. I actually had a tryout with Gateway before the draft even happened, but I told them I was going to wait until the draft just in case. I never heard anything, so their next series at home, I was in a Gateway uniform.
“I tried not to really think about it. I took it with a mindset of, ‘I’m getting paid to play baseball. I’m still playing.’ I didn’t look at like it was my last (opportunity), but I knew it could be. To me, it was to keep working as hard as you can.”
In his senior season at Mater Dei, Richards was 9-1 with a 1.07 ERA in 11 games, yielding just 29 hits in 58 2/3 innings, with 11 walks and 92 strikeouts. Richards, also a shortstop, batted .475 (38 for 80) with five doubles, four triples, one home run and 24 RBIs.
“That seems like a long time ago,” Richards said. “I was skin and bones then.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm