By Todd Johnson
On Monday, Ian Rice was named Hitter of the Week in the Southern League. For the week, the Tennessee Smokies catcher/first baseman hit .613 with 3 HRs and 9 RBIs. For the year, Rice is hitting .311 with an amazing .462 OBP along 3 HRs and 11. The 6’ 195 pound catcher has been wreaking havoc for the last year with his bat while drawing lots of walks. The University of Houston product has been working primarily on catching this year at Tennessee. His bat, and approach, are doing very well as his 1.003 OPS attests.
— Tennessee Smokies (@smokiesbaseball) May 8, 2017
Last year, I profiled Rice breaking out at South Bend in early June. After that article, Rice was promoted to Myrtle Beach where he continued hitting dingers for the Pelicans. He wound up hitting .265 between South Bend and Myrtle Beach with a combined .380 OBP. He also smashed 15 home runs, which was second most in the Cubs minor league system. And he drove in 58 runs in 97 games.
His quick start at AA is somewhat of a surprise. Rice was expected to head back to Myrtle Beach to get some more seasoning on his defense. Things changed in the last two weeks of the preseason and Rice headed to Tennessee where he now learns under the auspices of Mark Johnson, the Smokies manager and a former major league catcher.
In the 97 games he appeared in 2016, he only caught in 31. He has already caught 14 in games out of Tennessee’s 30. He only caught 12% of base stealers in 2016 (5/37) and this year he has not caught one (0/9). He has plenty to work on behind the plate.
Then again, it is all about his bat.
What Rice brings to the plate are three things that make him successful
- A short, quick stroke
- Elite pitch recognition skills
- The ability to lay off pitches and work a walk
In the video below, you see how quick Rice can get to the ball and thus provide lift from his 6’ frame.
While Rice is having a nice season to date, there’s no need to rush him to Iowa as Victor Caratini is there doing Victor Caratini things. At 23, Rice’s bat is clearly his calling card. His defense will determine how fast he makes it to the next level..
Rice is part of an organization that has some redundancy at Catcher with Caratini, Myrtle Beach’s PJ Higgins, and 18-year-old Miguel Amaya, Rice is going to have to separate himself from the others. Hitting .600 in a week is a start.