New Stance Has Rick Coming Around

It's been somewhat of a tough stretch for Class-A Daytona catcher Alan Rick since 2005 began. The former fourth-round pick in 2002 struggled through his worst professional season a year ago at Peoria and got off to an equally slow start in the Florida State League this season. But with more playing time of late and the help of a former major league all-star, Rick is showing signs of improvement.

While most of the attention at the Advanced A level of the Cubs' farm system has centered on 2003 first-round pick Ryan Harvey's long overdue turnaround at the plate, one player that has also shown promise in recent weeks has been catcher Alan Rick.

The Palatka, Fla., resident finished 2005 batting below the Mendoza Line at .197 and through the first three months of ‘06, it appeared he might not eclipse that total by much this season. But with Jake Fox moving up from Daytona to Double-A, Rick has garnered more at-bats for the playoff-hungry Cubs and has made the most of it so far.

Since July began, Rick is batting .311 with three home runs, seven doubles and 20 RBIs. He entered Sunday's game against Lakeland with five hits in his last two games and finished July with 17 RBIs – his highest total for any one month in his career.

Rick owes it all to a former major league all-star, and the brother of another: Richie Zisk, the team's hitting coach and former manager, and Antonio Grissom, brother of former big leaguer Marquis Grissom, who battled for one of the final roster spots on the Cubs' bench this spring before announcing his retirement in March.

"I was in sort of a closed-off, narrow stance, so I opened it up a little," says Rick, who is batting .242 in 60 games with the team this year.

"Talking with Richie, my hands were slow with the bat and we couldn't figure out why. I've opened it up to help my hits get through and make my bat a little quicker. I'm getting to the ball a little better and can see a little better. I've opened up my stance sort of more Jim Thome-like."

As such, Rick has recently added some home run pop to his swing. The 22-year-old has seven homers this season (two shy of his career-high nine with Lansing in 2004), including three since the adjustments were made.

He has noticed the changes and feels he's now more capable of going yard in his at-bats.

"I definitely do," he said. "I've always been a guy that wanted to pull the ball. I've started opening it up. I can take outside balls and either go the other way with them or pull them. I don't know if it's because I opened my stance up a little more, but it's helped me get a little more power."

Defensively, Rick still gets the bulk of playing time behind the plate, but as was the case a year ago in Peoria, he has garnered a handful of starts at first base. He has made only a limited number of starts on the right side of the diamond, but has been brought into games as a late-inning substitution there periodically this season.

Behind the plate, Rick has not committed an error through 309 changes. He has nine passed balls, however, which is one more than Fox's total of eight.

Defense has always been arguably Rick's strongest attribute, and the left-handed hitting backstop feels pleased with his progress behind the plate. He has thrown out 28 percent of runners this year.

"I've worked a lot on my receiving lately, trying not to drop any balls," Rick said. "My game-calling still needs a little help. I've called some bad pitches in certain situations, but catching, blocking and receiving-wise, I feel pretty good. I feel really comfortable and confident back there. If someone calls for a splitfinger or another pitch down in the zone, I feel really good about my chances of blocking it."

That confidence has in turn resulted in a more positive approach in his at-bats.

"If I make some fine plays defensively, I carry it with me the next time up," he said.

With less than a month remaining in the regular season, Rick's only goal from here on out is to help the team into the post-season. The Cubs are 25-17 in the second half, two games ahead of St. Lucie in the Eastern Division.

"My goal at the very beginning of the year was to make it to Daytona," Rick said. "I wanted to get here and prove that I can play here, and I think I have. I just want to win a championship really bad. That's my only goal."

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