2007 Draft Spotlight: Brian Rike
Entering Louisiana Tech as a graduate student last fall, I quickly realized that there were a number of very good athletes on the baseball team. One in particular, Brian Rike, had a tremendous fall season and I expected to see good things from him this spring. I can't say that I would have predicted 20 HRs, but he has enjoyed one of the best seasons in LA Tech baseball history (.346 BA, 20 HR, 66 RBI).
As a result, Rike earned 2007 WAC player of the year honors along with Louisville Slugger 2nd Team All-America.
Baseball America did a recent write up on Rike, pointing out his transformation from walk-on to draft prospect, and BA has also projected him as a top-5 round pick.
On May 21st, I had a chance to sit down and chat with Brian before Tech left for the WAC conference tournament...
Jeff: You've been in Ruston now for 3 years. Tell me about your overall experience coming here and playing for Louisiana Tech.
Brian: Overall, it has been a great experience for me. I came here as a walk-on, but for me, working hard has shown that you can just keep moving up with your game one step at a time. Going off last summer [to the Jayhawk league] helped a lot, and then coming back this year I am putting up some pretty good numbers. What I've been doing in the past has kind of worked so I am just going to try to stick with it.
Jeff: All right, you mentioned walking-on to the team here. I know I've had my own experience with that situation, so I know what it's like. At any point did you doubt your ability at all or did you just always feel like you could come in here and compete at this level?
Brian: I never really doubted my ability. I just didn't know as a walk-on if I'd get the same opportunity as some guys with scholarships. But Coach Sim [Head Coach, Wade Simoneaux] is fair; he doesn't really care about who is on scholarship or who isn't. It's more about who performs and whoever does the job is going to go out there and play.
Jeff: Once you started seeing that you fit in here, when did you start envisioning yourself at the next level and seeing an opportunity to really move yourself up in the draft?
Brian: The middle of my freshman year we had some injuries and there were about 4 or 5 guys on the bench. I was the youngest one, but he [Simoneaux] chose me to go out there and be an everyday starter, so I think my confidence really started to go up. Then I came back and started as a sophomore and it just progressed from there.
Jeff: Right, you had around 80 at-bats as a freshman and returned with a mini-breakout (.320 BA, 8 HR, 34 RBI) season in 2006. That carried over into a solid summer in the Jayhawk league, where you got familar with wooden bats (.373/.475/.626). How helpful was that experience?
Brian: Summer ball last year in the Jayhawk league definitely helped because it made you hit the ball square every time. You don't get away with it, like a metal bat, when you hit it off the end or get jammed, you know getting little base hits or possibly getting one out. With the wood, you gotta hit it square every time, right on the sweet spot. If you don't....it hurts.
Jeff: We'll get to the swing in a minute, but going back to improving ability, I see you guys in the weight room most of the time and I know you guys complain about doing squats and things like that, but it seems like it has paid off for you.
Brian: Everybody hates going in there at 5:30 in the morning to lift, but everyone knows that it helps, so we try to keep the complaining to a minimum. Overall, it does help tremendously.
Jeff: Nothing like doing squats and getting competitive with your buddies at 6 a.m....
Brian: Dude, if you can get motivated at 6 a.m. to do squats...you can do a lot of things.
Jeff: So, it's not too bad?
Jeff: I've taped a lot of your at-bats and looking at the video more and more, your swing looks very consistent. How does this contribute to your approach as a hitter?
Brian: For me, watching the video is a lot of help because something might not feel right now, so I can go back and look when I was hitting well to see and compare to what I am doing now. It might be the littlest thing like stepping in too much or your hands are a little bit different, but if you can just change that it always seems to work out.
Jeff: Does keeping that swing consistent make it easier for you to just focus on the pitcher?
Brian: Keeping it consistent definitely helps for me. That's just one less thing I have to worry about. If I know I am confident in my swing I don't have to think about anything and then I can work on picking up something from the pitcher that he might give away to help me get that hit.
Jeff: So hopefully, that translates into professional baseball. You'll be seeing consistently better pitching, so you'll be able to focus on learning the pitchers.
Brian: Yeah, I'll have to learn how to wait longer and make adjustments, but hopefully keeping my swing consistent won't be too big of a change.
Jeff: You were leading the country in home runs early in the season. Had you tried to prepare yourself at all for that? How do you deal with all of the extra attention you're getting this year?
Brian: Well, it really doesn't bother me. I just go out there and have fun anyways. It was fun to have a nice year and have people notice the hard work paying off, but I'm just coming out here and having fun with my buddies on the field.
Jeff: It looks that way to me - in the weight room and on the field. I guess that's a good thing to be having fun with your buddies.
Brian: We have fun, but there is also a point where you have to get your stuff done.
Jeff: You've got some individual attention, but there is a team atmosphere here.
Brian: Yeah, it makes it much more enjoyable here to come out to the field when everyone is having a good time, but when we need to be serious, we can.
Jeff: Along those lines, it seems like you've been the guy on the team this year that comes through when it is expected. Do you take on more responsibility in those situations, or is the approach to each at-bat the same?
Brian: I like to take the same approach, but I take pride in that when I'm in the pressure situation I'll have good numbers. Some of the younger guys, and even some upper-classmen, kind of look at me as a leader - not necessarily through talking or yelling, but more just showing people my actions. So I take a lot of pride there and it adds that extra confidence when these guys know I can do it. It helps me perform up there in the pressure situations.
Jeff: I still haven't told you this, but after a home run and a single, I overheard one of the Sacramento State players say: "This guy is good."
Brian: That always makes you feel good to get respect from the guys you're playing against. They're still rivals, but it's nice to get those compliments at the end of the series and then go on your way.
Jeff: The flip side is that other teams start to pitch you a little more carefully.
Brian: At the beginning of the season, they would come in and out, but now basically they just stay soft away. We saw one scouting report that just said: "limit the damage" - better to give up a single to left field on a change-up than give up something hard to the pull side. So they are really trying to limit what I can do.
Jeff: But that has to prepare you for the future.
Brian: Definitely. It helps me - the change-ups and curveballs - to wait back and also know that my hands are quick enough to turn on the fastball. Plus, whenever I can get on base, that is just one more baserunner for them to have to worry about.
Jeff: You were able to show some power early, so does developing patience at the plate add another item in the plus column for you?
Brian: Now they are saying that I am a power hitter as well as an average guy, so that's tremendous to have strikeouts less than walks. As long as I can keep that up through the years, that would be awesome.
Jeff: OK, you've done all these interviews - is there anything you haven't been asked or something you just need to tell people about?
Brian: Not really. But when I started getting close to Soto's [former LA Tech player TJ Soto] home run record everybody was like....it didn't really bother me....but they jinxed me. That's my theory, they jinxed me.
Jeff: I didn't want to mention...
Brian: It's all good and fun. TJ is out here giving me a hard time about it and it is all in good fun. Hopefully, in the future, I will get to come back and give someone a hard time.
Jeff: Well Brian, thanks for your time. Good luck in the conference tournament.
Brian: Any time.
With that, I'll leave with my "video scouting report". I have had a unique opportunity to assist in a research study that looks at the year-round conditioning of an NCAA Division I baseball team. From what I understand, this is the first study that has tested players in the off-season, pre-season, mid-season and post-season. So we've amassed all types of variables from strength, agility, speed, and velocity - all the physical attributes you'd want to know about a player. Combine that with game video and here is what you get:
FYI, a version of above video with navigation tabs can be found here.