When Richie Palacios stepped onto the baseball diamond inside of Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, on April 25 to make his Major League Baseball debut with the Cleveland Guardians, he was mesmerized.
“It was absolutely beautiful,” the former Towson standout said. “But honestly, I think any stadium would have been beautiful because I made my debut.”
Palacios is more than a one-hit wonder. Aside from a seven-day stay with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers in the middle of May, he has remained with the Guardians for 22 games, including 16 starts primarily in left field. As of Sunday, he’s batting .293 (17-for-58) with four doubles, seven RBIs and three runs scored and has helped Cleveland compile a 29-27 record and rise to second place in the American League’s Central, trailing only the Minnesota Twins (35-27).
Rob Cerfolio, the Guardians’ director of player development, pointed out that the 25-year-old Palacios has joined 23-year-old second baseman Andrés Giménez, 24-year-old centerfielder Steven Kwan, 24-year-old right fielder Oscar Gonzalez and 25-year-old infielder Owen Miller to make Cleveland the youngest team in MLB this summer.
“I think he’s brought what we saw from him on Day 1,” Cerfolio said. “His competitiveness, his energy, a desire to be great, he’s brought that same intent and focus to our major league club. And in a sense, it’s been really cool that he’s been able to do that with Steve Kwan and Oscar Gonzalez and a bunch of guys that were part of a winning culture in our Double-A team and have carried that over to Triple-A, and now they’re getting a chance to do that with the major league club.”
Palacios’ staying power at the major league level is not surprising to Towson baseball coach Matt Tyner, a former head coach at Bellarmine and assistant coach at Butler and Richmond.
“That kid possesses that ‘it’ factor,” said Tyner, a ninth-round pick of the Orioles in the 1980 draft who played three seasons in the franchise’s farm system before a series of elbow injuries forced him to retire in 1983. “He’s the kid you want your daughter dating, and he’s the kid you want hitting third in your lineup. What more can you ask for?”
Baseball was not Palacios’ first athletic dream while growing up in Brooklyn, New York. He initially wanted to become a motocross rider, but that idea was quickly rebuffed by his mother.
So Palacios turned his attention to baseball, a growing family tradition as his father reached the Triple-A level for the Detroit Tigers and his uncle Rey Palacios played first base and catcher for the Kansas City Royals from 1988 to 1990.
Richie Palacios said he began playing organized baseball when he was 4 years old by sneaking a few at-bats on his older brother Josh’s 6-and-under T-ball team. It helped that their father was the coach.
“I would just cry every time I would go and wouldn’t be able to play,” he recalled.
When the time came to choose a college destination, Palacios said Towson was the only program that showed serious interest. That decision paid dividends as he started all 153 games that he played from 2016 to 2018, became the first player in program history to earn the Colonial Athletic Association’s Rookie of the Year award, was a two-time CAA second-team selection at shortstop, and became the school’s all-time leader in stolen bases with 76.
“I was able to play every day, and that’s the biggest thing in baseball,” Palacios said of his time with the Tigers. “It’s easier to develop when you’re playing every single day. So I was glad that I was able to go there because I was able to learn things that have definitely helped me progress in my career.”
Tyner, who was aware of Palacios when Richmond met Towson in a tournament at Wake Forest in 2016, said Palacios was one of the first players to approach him in his office for a one-on-one conversation about his expectations in 2018, Tyner’s first year with the Tigers. He said he challenged Palacios to improve based on discussions he had with scouts from, among others, the Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres.
“I said, ‘This is what they say. You need to hit with more power, you need to cut down on strikeouts, you need to be able to use the whole field, you’ve got to get better defensively, and you have to steal more bases. Do you want to do that?’” Tyner said. “He said, ‘Let’s get started.’ I was just blown away. I was like, ‘This kid is all business.’”
Despite minimal talk with the Guardians, Palacios was selected by the club with the 103rd overall pick in the third round of the 2018 MLB amateur draft — the third-highest pick in Towson history. Despite not playing in 2019 due to a torn labrum and 2020 because the coronavirus pandemic canceled the minor league season, he batted .309 with 93 RBIs, 14 home runs, 46 doubles and 30 stolen bases in 162 minor league games. He’s ranked the Guardians’ No. 14 prospect by Baseball America.
Cerfolio, Cleveland’s director of player development, said the coaches at all levels of the organization’s farm system began asking Palacios, a second baseman by trade, to learn the outfield.. Cerfolio said that opened the door for Palacios to make his MLB debut.
“Coming out of spring training, he didn’t make the team, but he was a guy that was able to show what he could do on offense because he was able to play multiple positions both in the infield and the outfield,” Cerfolio said . “So I think last year, we saw him come out of the 2020 mystery, and he was better when we last saw him. He was healthy, and he showed that he could handle the competition.”
When he was called up April 25, Palacios became the fourth Towson player to reach the big leagues, joining Al Rubeling (1940-1944), Chris Nabholz (1990-1995) and Casper Wells (2010-2013).
“The best part of the day for me was being able to call my dad while on the field and show him the field because my parents [Richard and Lianne] have just sacrificed so much,” he said. “So it was pretty cool to share that moment with them.”
A self-described early riser, Tyner said he frequently texts Palacios in the morning and barely waits a minute before Palacios replies. Tyner said that is a sign of how hungry Palacios is.
“He’s going to push and push and push,” he said. “That’s his goal. I like to think of him as maybe one of those Steve Jobs, Bill Gates types. He’s that kind of guy except that he’s an athlete.”
Despite his success, Palacios said he frequently seeks out advice from his brother Josh, an outfielder for the Rochester Red Wings, the Washington Nationals’ Triple-A club. He said his brother’s wisdom has fortified his approach to the remainder of the season.
“This is what I always prayed about,” he said. “So it’s not surprising to me, but it’s obviously humbling and awesome to be able to play the same game and just be able to be successful at it. For me, success is not truly by the numbers, but about having quality at-bats and getting team wins. So if I’m able to do that, I’m being successful.”