Southern notes: Richards defying doubters

Jacksonville righty thrives after joining Marlins from indy ball

Undrafted in 2015, Trevor Richards is 9-4 with a 2.11 ERA across two levels this season. (Roger C. Hoover)

By Guy Curtright / Special to MiLB.com | July 13, 2017 10:00 AM ET

Trevor Richards would be a natural guest on Intentional Talk if he establishes himself in the Major Leagues. 

The Jacksonville right-hander -- like show co-host Kevin Millar -- wasn't taken in the Draft out of college and started his career in independent baseball before being signed by the Marlins. 

Richards didn't know Millar's nearly identical backstory until told about it, but he certainly wouldn't mind being interviewed someday by the World Series champion.

"That could be fun," Richards said. "It sounds like we'd have something to talk about."

Millar, who played at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, spent the 1993 season with the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League before attracting the attention of the Marlins.

Richards, from NCAA Division II Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, was into his second season with the Gateway Grizzlies in the independent Frontier League last year before he got his chance with the same franchise. 

In the 12 months since signing, Richards has shown just how much of a mistake teams made by overlooking him.

The Illinois native was an All-Star with the Class A Advanced Jupiter Hammerheads this season and has been just as good since being promoted to the Jumbo Shrimp for the second half of his first full Minor League season.

Richards, who turned 24 in May, is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in four starts with Jacksonville after going 7-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 13 games with Jupiter.

Equally impressive are his other pitching numbers: He has 103 strikeouts to 20 walks in 94 combined innings this season to go with a 0.97 WHIP and .204 opponents' batting average.

With his success so far, Richards could easily be forgiven for telling his doubters, "I told you so."

But Richards isn't big on looking back or too far ahead.

"I focus on things day to day," he said. "I've learned not to expect anything. You never know what is ahead."

Richards knew, though, that he wanted to continuing playing after going 24-12 with a 2.96 ERA in four seasons at Drury, even though he didn't woo scouts at the small college.

Richards went to a Gateway tryout before the Draft and knew he had a spot in independent ball if he wasn't picked. The Grizzlies are based about 40 miles from his hometown of Aviston, Illinois, and he had gone to games while growing up.

Richards quickly joined the Gateway rotation and fared well. But he was still in the Frontier League at the start of the 2016 season. In July, the Marlins came calling and Richards quickly showed the organization he was worth a contract, posting a combined 2.48 ERA over 54 1/3 innings at two Class A levels with 53 strikeouts to 16 walks.

The 6-foot-2 righty says his stuff isn't that much different than it was in college -- he's just learned how to take advantage of his pitches.

"Pitchability, that's the difference," he said. "I learned a lot at Gateway. In college, all I tried to do was keep the ball down. Now I pitch in and out, up and down. I learned the foundation of how to pitch in the Frontier League. Now I'm adding to that base and trying to get better each start."

Richards was dominant in his most recent outing on Sunday, blanking Biloxi on three hits over seven innings while striking out 10 and walking one.

Video: Jacksonville's Richards records 10th K of game

Of his 88 pitches, 64 were strikes. Richards' fastball usually doesn't top 90 mph by much, but it nicely sets up a change that is usually about 8 mph slower and highly effective. He also mixes in a curveball for another change in velocity.

"The key for me is commanding my fastball to spots and keeping hitters off-balance by changing speeds," Richards said.

Richards may have been ignored in the 2015 Draft, but he's earning attention now and the Marlins may have belatedly found a hidden gem.

In brief

Power surge: Dalton Kelly has six homers in his first 15 games with Montgomery after hitting just two in 69 games for Class A Advanced Charlotte. He also has 15 RBIs for the Biscuits and is batting .383 with a .431 on-base percentage while slugging .783. Kelly, 22, had a .305/.390/.411 slash line for Charlotte. The first baseman was acquired by Tampa Bay from Seattle last November as part of a five-player deal. 

New start: First baseman Nick Longhi had a three-run double in his second game with Pensacola and a three-run homer in his fourth after being acquired by Cincinnati from Boston in exchange for $2.75 million in international bonus pool money on July 2. The 21-year-old was ranked as the Red Sox's No. 10 prospect going into the season and joined the Reds' rankings at No. 18. Longhi, who was wooed away from a scholarship to LSU by a bonus offer of $440,000 from Boston, was hitting .262 with six homers and 33 RBIs in 62 games for Double-A Portland before the trade.

Hot, hot, hot: Chattanooga, the North Division's first-half champion, won 13 of its first 14 games to begin the second half before cooling off just a little. Jonathan Rodriguez was a big reason for the hot start as the 27-year-old first baseman had a pair of four-hit games. After 18 second-half games, he's batting .398 with a .468 on-base percentage to go with four homers and 14 RBIs. 

Soldiering on: Jackson right-hander Taylor Clarke followed up a one-hit outing over six scoreless innings against Tennessee on July 3 by limiting Birmingham to five hits and a run in six frames last Saturday. He improved to 8-4 for the Generals with the two victories. The D-backs' No. 5 prospect has a 2.66 ERA in 17 starts, with 93 strikeouts and 28 walks in 88 innings. 

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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