Mike Rikard, the man now in charge of the Red Sox’ draft, has been a critical voice in Boston’s amateur scouting for more than 10 years. Perhaps the most important scouting lesson he learned came courtesy of a member of the Red Sox, although it was before Rikard was with the team and even before he was a scout.
Before he started his scouting career with the Padres in 2000, Rikard was a college coach, primarily at Wake Forest, from 1994-2000. In 1999 and 2000, he spent the summer coaching the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League.
In his second summer with Bourne, Rikard coached a player who had just gone undrafted as a college junior at the University of Cincinnati, someone who was supposed to have nothing more than an opportunity to play at the beginning of the Cape season before players from more prestigious programs arrived following the College World Series.
But Kevin Youkilis dominated his competition, hitting .309 with an on-base percentage that approached .500 while walking 40 times and striking out on just 16 occasions. He was one of the standout performers in a league of elite college talent.
The performance prompted more questions than answers at the time. Why, in a year when teams had selected 1,452 amateur players, had all 30 teams passed on Youkilis in the 2000 draft? Why, at a time when he was hitting against excellent amateurs, didn’t anyone try to sign Youkilis for what Rikard told scouting friends would be “just about nothing” as an undrafted free agent that summer?
“One of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned through all of the years in baseball is probably Kevin Youkilis,” Rikard recalled by phone earlier this offseason. “He showed up on the Cape as a temporary player. He played every game all summer long with a huge chip on his shoulder.
“The thing that really stuck out to me was how good of a hitter he was. His eye, his plate discipline were just so much more advanced than really everybody else in the league. I don’t remember him swinging and missing hardly at all throughout the whole summer.”
Rikard has worked as a regional and national cross-checker with the Red Sox since 2004, first under former director of amateur scouting Jason McLeod, who is now a Cubs assistant general manager, and for the last five years under Amiel Sawdaye, who is being promoted to a vice president with responsibilities spanning both domestic and international amateur scouting.
Rikard’s sensibilities regarding the search for overlooked talent have been a frequent talking point with the scouts he has helped train over the years, imparting lessons both from his time as a coach and scout as well as a lifetime around the game. His father, Bob Rikard, played in the minors while his uncle, Culley Rikard, played in the big leagues for the Pirates in the 1940s.
The Youkilis example makes Rikard believe the Sox can find value in a draft where they’ve punted their second and third picks (a competitive-balance pick acquired in the Jon Lester trade with the A’s and the team’s second-rounder) in order to sign free agents Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.
“So many times we look for the great bodies and the prettier players,” said Rikard. “In many cases, it boils down to what kind of hitter you are.
“He’s a guy that obviously handled the bat extremely well, controlled the strike zone extremely well, and ended up as a major league hitter, evolving into some level of a slugger as well.
“I try to look at guys like him, especially when, typically in most drafts, you can get players who may not look quite the part a little bit deeper in the draft. We’ve seen other teams do well with guys like that a little bit deeper as well through the years.”
Youkilis was drafted the next year (2001), by the Red Sox in the eighth round.
Of course, Rikard won’t just be in charge of searching for hidden gems later in the draft. For the second time in three years — but just the third time in nearly a half-century, thanks to their dismal 2014 season — the Sox hold one of the top 10 picks (No. 7) in this year’s draft.
“It’s an opportunity that, more than anything, you hope you don’t have too often or ever again as far as picking near the top of the draft,” said Rikard. “But it is an exciting opportunity, and this looks like it will be a pretty good group of players. It should be fun.”
There is weight in that responsibility, a sense that a franchise-changing selection could offer a silver lining to a brutal 2014 season if the Sox find the next Frank Thomas, Clayton Kershaw, or Troy Tulowitzki — a few of the stars who have been taken at No. 7.
“I feel ready,” said Rikard. “Most of that is because I’ve had superiors that I’ve worked with and under that have gone out of their way in many cases to help prepare me for a lot of these responsibilities.
“Through the years, I’ve tried to really pay close attention and pick up on some things, just really more than anything the way things were handled in all regards, whether it was Jason in the early years, Amiel or others.
“Obviously we have an extremely talented group of individuals in our front office and our department. I’ve tried to take little bits and pieces from all of them in hopes of one day having this opportunity. I feel like I’m ready and prepared and very eager to take on the challenge.”
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.