When it comes to tools and raw talent, there may be no player in the Brewers organization blessed with more than outfielder D’Vontrey Richardson.
The Washington Nationals saw that talent early on and selected the Georgia native in the 35th round of the 2006 draft. Though Washington pushed hard to sign Richardson, he had other plans in mind.
“At that time, they kind of threw a lot at me” said Richardson. “I was gonna go but I was really sold on trying to play two sports for Florida State. That’s kind of hard to give up.”
An all-around athlete who excelled in both baseball and football at Lee County High School, Richardson passed on the Nationals offer and enrolled at Florida State University, where he would play for a pair of legendary coaches in Bobby Bowden and Mike Martin.
Richardson redshirted in football his freshman year, but saw action in 28 games for the Seminoles baseball team, hitting .351 in 131 at bats.
He saw limited playing time as FSU’s fourth string quarterback in 2007, but made his mark on the gridiron the following season as the backup to Christian Ponder, a future first round pick of the Minnesota Vikings. Richardson played in ten games during his redshirt sophomore season in 2008, throwing for 315 yards and three touchdowns as the Seminoles went 9-4. He also rushed for three touchdowns, including a 52-yard dash to the end zone that set a school record for the longest touchdown run by a quarterback.
Back on the diamond, Richardson appeared in 46 games for the ‘Noles, hitting .304. The Brewers selected him in the fifth round of the draft that June, leaving Richardson with another decision to make. This time he chose baseball.
“All through high school people were saying that I needed to pick one” Richardson said. “One sport. And I was in love with both of them, so I was just saying, whichever comes first I’m going to go after it. I got drafted pretty high and I loved playing two sports, but had to go ahead and take advantage of the opportunity.”
The Brewers agreed to terms with their fifth round pick and for the first time, Richardson was able to focus his attention on one sport. Having that singular focus helped him quickly develop some of his raw tools. “I definitely think that focusing in on one thing and being around the game, whatever game you’re playing, will help you improve as a player” explained Richardson. “Whatever you do in life, whatever your job is, if you’re going full speed at being a construction worker, you’re gonna be the best worker. When you can focus on one thing you get a couple steps ahead of that person who’s doing two sports”
The Brewers aggressively promoted Richardson to Class-A Wisconsin in 2010, choosing to have him skip over both of their rookie league affiliates. He made his professional debut with the Timber Rattlers and hit .243 with seven home runs in 132 games.
The jump from college to the pros presented new challenges for the talented outfielder, affectionately known to his teammates as “D’Vo”. “I guess just the long season and learning how to deal with the ups and downs because I didn’t get to play as much as I would have liked to in college” he said. “So when I got to the pros and got to Wisconsin I had to learn how to become a baseball player on the field and in the mind. They say it’s mental and you have to try to stay level headed. So I definitely would say it fatigues the body physically, but also mentally.”
Richardson advanced to Brevard County in 2011 and put together a solid season, hitting .284 in 97 games, but following the season, at age 23, he decided to walk away from professional baseball.
After sitting out the 2012 season, Richardson returned to the diamond in 2013, determined to place his focus on the joy of playing the game he loved, rather than the grind of the long minor league season. “I didn’t want to get older and have a lot of regrets looking back” he explained, “and so I was finished with school and figured I had to go ahead and take advantage of the opportunity. So I went back with an open mind trying to enjoy the game without putting a lot of pressure on myself. I went back and definitely played the game like I know I can play it. Free, happy, smiling, and it definitely paid off.”
It paid off indeed. Without missing a beat, Richardson quickly shook off the rust in extended spring training and returned to Brevard County where he hit .325 in 52 games. That earned him another promotion, this time to Double-A Huntsville to start the 2014 season.
After a slow start to the season, Richardson began to make adjustments and caught fire in July, hitting .375 through the first ten games of the month, only to have his season derailed by injury. “It was very frustrating because I was just starting to try to understand what I was doing at the plate” he said. “I felt like I was getting myself out, just swinging at sliders in the dirt, first pitch maybe, just getting myself out, and I was a little frustrated. Then I learned swing path and how to become more mechanically sound as a baseball player instead of just being an athlete up there whenever they’re throwing different pitches. I had to kind of learn that, and as soon as I started learning that and trying to flip the switch and try to become a better baseball player, instead of just being an athlete, I got hurt.”
As he prepares for the 2015 season, Richardson finds himself making his way towards the big leagues at a position where the Brewers enjoy plenty of depth. Carlos Gomez is an All-Star center fielder at the major league level. Tyrone Taylor is a rising star in the organization, and Milwaukee acquired Kyle Wren, who was among the Atlanta Braves top prospects, this past offseason. While he’s aware of the potential logjam forming in center field, Richardson isn’t letting it distract him from his goals.
“I would be lying if I said that didn’t cross my mind” said Richardson. “It does. But I honestly don’t really let it go too deep because it’s not up to me. It’s not something I can control. All I can do is control myself and what I do to become a better player. Whatever happens, there’s a lot of talent in baseball. People put in the work they do, they become better the more reps they get. So I will continue to try to develop myself and I hope they continue to develop themselves because that’s all that matters. I would play for the Brewers or Colorado Springs or the Biloxi Shuckers or whoever. It really doesn’t matter. I try not to think too deep in to it.”
What he is focused on, is improving his overall game while continuing to learn on the job. In addition to the strides he’s made at the plate, Richardson has also shown major improvements on the basepaths. After getting caught stealing in over half of his attempts his first two seasons, Richardson stole bases at an 88% clip in 2014. It’s another area he has worked hard to improve.
“Yeah it definitely has improved” Richardson said with a laugh. “On the basepaths, whenever I was getting out there, I was really trying too hard. They say whenever you’re trying to steal a base, you’ve got to make sure you know you’re about to go and then the pitcher will tell you (whether or not to go). Watching film helped me this past year. Watching other players. (Former Brewers outfielder) Josh Prince was trying to teach me some things, and I guess it’s all about the jump. It’s never about the speed when you’re trying to steal bases. A lot of people think it’s all abut the speed, but it’s about learning your opponent. So I think I would like to continue to take that into this future season and hopefully I can keep improving on the basepaths by watching film, learning my opponent and trying to get a better jump.”
Heading in to spring training, Richardson could take another step forward and advance to Triple-A Colorado Springs or he may return to Double-A after having his 2014 campaign cut short. Regardless of where he starts the season, Richardson is determined to have fun while continuing to learn his craft, and hopefully win a lot of games in the process. “My main goal is to try to improve as a player” he said, “but also try to make others around me better, because it’s always fun when you’re winning.”