Rick Not Worried About Slow Start

PEORIA, Ill. - Catcher Alan Rick is off to the slowest start of his semi-brief minor league career, batting .165 through his first 35 games at Class-A Peoria. While he acknowledges things could be better, Rick also knows that dwelling on any of the negatives won't help him improve any time soon.

"I'm not real happy," said Rick, a fourth round pick out of high school in 2002. "I'm happy with my defense and in the way I'm helping the staff. But right now, I'm just not getting hits when I need to. The guys around me are contributing, so I know I'll come around eventually. That's just baseball."

Rick hit .174 in April and .167 in May. Thus far in June, he is 1-for-9 in three games. He began the year splitting time behind the plate with a fellow high-round pick out of high school, Mark Reed.

However, Reed also struggled, and was eventually sent to extended spring training. Then along came Oscar Bernard, who opened the year with a 15-game suspension as the result of violating MLB's Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

One of the biggest differences with Rick this year as opposed to last season is the situational change. After working with Jake Fox a year ago at Lansing, Rick says he was a learner at the time. Now that he's in his second season in the Midwest League, the 21-year-old feels he is more of a teacher this time around.

"Mark didn't come to me that much, but I tried to give him some advice anyway," Rick said. "He's a smart catcher who knows what he's doing. With Jake, I'd go and talk to him a lot, so I was sort of giving Mark some relay from (Fox). That was the one thing with Mark being younger. With Oscar, he's a good catcher and good overall at blocking and throwing. Really the only thing I helped him with was his English."

Rick has not batted above .200 since April 25. The low point was back on May 17, when his average plummeted to .141.

"The one simple thing is ... don't think about it as much," Rick said. "In baseball, you always hear about guys thinking too much whenever they're struggling. I can't change my approach as a whole; I just have to go out and play my game. It's a hard thing, because it can snowball on you."

Luckily, the Florida native has found an age-old hobby to keep his mind off his struggles while away from the park.

"I try to go fishing on off-day's," Rick said. "Where I'm from, I like to hunt, fish and ride four-wheelers. I'll find lakes and ponds nearby. The stadium here is next to the river. Eric Patterson is staying at a different apartment than mine, so me and some of the other guys are going to go hit up a pond close by."

A year ago at Lansing, Rick was hitting .228 through the first two months. He didn't come on strong until June, when he finished with a .333 average for the month and eventually went on to bat .256 for the year. Being in a prolonged slump is something overly new to Rick.

"I've called up a lot of people to talk about hitting," he said. "But ultimately, I'm the one who swings the bat. I just have to rely on my ability."

And despite the hitting woes, Rick remains pleased with his defense this season.

"I've been trying to make some of the pitchers a little better, and I am trying to be more of a leader," Rick said.

"I try to calm the pitchers down if they're getting hit around. I'll try to figure something out; try to make them laugh. I feel my blocking has gotten better. I want to keep my pitchers from throwing more pitches than they have to, and one way you can do that is by throwing out runners. The other night I missed an out that way and the pitcher ended up having to throw eight more pitches in the inning."

This season, Rick has caught Peoria starters Sean Gallagher, Lee Gwaltney, Matt Weber, and Jesse Estrada. Rick acknowledges the group is tight-knit, and he says there's no one standout.

"Gallagher and I had the no-hitter (April 20 at Cedar Rapids)," Rick said. "We're all on the same pace. Weber and I work great together. I like catching them all. Gallagher is the easiest to catch, because he's always around the plate and goes right after the hitter."

This is Rick's fourth year in the Cubs' system, but only his second on the full-season circuit. Of all the coaches and instructors Rick has worked with this season, it comes as no surprise that he is exceptionally fond of one gentleman in particular: Grady Little, the former Red Sox manager and now the Cubs' Roving Catching Instructor.

"Grady comes in and says, ‘What do you want to do today'? and then we'll do it," Rick said. "If I say, ‘Well I feel good with my throws,' he'll say, ‘Well then we won't throw today.' Of course I worked with (Chiefs manager) Julio Garcia last year, too. (Pitching Coach) Tom Pratt is always a good teacher as well. 'T.P.' always says, ‘Why don't you try this'? He likes to teach people, not just the pitchers, about the game.

"Working with this staff, it does me a lot of good."

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