Trevor Richards thought he might be selected in the 2016 Major League Draft, based on the conversations his coaches at Drury University had with a few big league scouts.
"They had talked to scouts and we had all the paper work fill out and ready to go. But I didn't get a call," recalled Richards, a right-handed pitcher."Fortunately, I had plan B worked out."
That contingency plan involved a nine-game stint with the Gateway Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League. Barely a year later, the undrafted pitcher out of Mater Dei Catholic High School has advanced farther and faster than the 10 other metro-east prospects in professional baseball.
Richards was signed to a free agent contract by the Miami Marlins on July 3 of last year and has since advanced through rookie-league Batavia, class-A Greensboro, and high-A Jupiter.
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He was promoted recently to the Class AA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp of the Southern League.
"It's been a year and three days since I got the phone call that the Marlins were purchasing my contract from the Grizzlies," he said late last week. "It's been a wild ride. I've been all over the place."
In his most recent start Sunday, Richards shut out the Biloxi Shuckers — class AA affiliates of the Milwaukee Brewers — on just three hits through seven full innings. He struck out 10 batters, but didn't get a decision in Jacksonville's 1-0, 11-inning loss.
Richards departed Jupiter on June 21 with 7-4 record and 2.23 ERA through 70.2 innings pitched. Through four games at Jacksonville, he is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .205 against him this season.
"I've been through college, I have my degree and now I have this opportunity to keep playing baseball and get paid for it no less," he said. "That's pretty much my approach to all this —kind of mind my own business, listen to the coaches, work on what I need to work on, and take it all in every five days at a time."
Richards started this season with the Jupiter Hammerheads of the high-A Florida State League. His fastball is routinely in the mid-90s which, coupled with a plus-changeup and an emerging side-to-side slider, is contributing to his rapid ascent.
"I've been working on the breaking ball since college, but didn't really need it as much then," he said. "Location is the thing. I think at this level, I need to have three pitches I can throw with consistency. Obviously, I'm still a work in progress, but it's coming around."
Richards drew little interest from college recruiters out of Mater Dei, despite his .475 batting average and 1.07 ERA as a senior in 2011. The culprits were a fastball that barely broke 80 mph and the lack of a breaking pitch he could consistently throw for strikes.
Drury University, a private liberal arts school in Springfield,Mo. and member of the NCAA Division-II Great Lakes Valley Conference, saw the potential and signed Richards as a junior.
Location is the thing. I think at this level, I need to have three pitches I can throw with consistency. Obviously, I'm still a work in progress, but it's coming around.
Trevor Richards, right-handed pitcher
"His changeup was lights-out from the beginning," said Drury head coach Scott Nasby. "It's what allowed him to get through to the college level because, without it, he wouldn't have made it. But I thought when we recruited him out of high school — with his frame and given that he was a three-sport athlete — that the velocity would come."
It did, but not soon enough or fast enough to get him drafted in 2016. So Richards cashed in on his successful workout with the Grizzlies.
"I had a good tryout and they said they wanted to sign me," Richards said. "That was plan B."
Ricky Meinhold, an alumnus of both Drury University and the Frontier League, scouted Richards for the St. Louis Cardinals and put the word out on him to friends in other organizations.
The day after a start against the Evansville Otters in June of 2016, Richards found himself sitting in the grandstand with a scout from the Miami Marlins. The two conversed, but Richards said he had no idea that the Marlins were interested.
It was Grizzlies Manager Phil Warren who delivered Richards the news that Miami had purchased his contract and assigned him to Batavia in the New York-Penn League.
"It's funny how things work out," Richards said. "When you're in indy ball, it's everybody's goal to catch on with an affiliated team. In that sense you try to expect it when it happens, but it still catches you off guard."