When the Atlanta Braves went underslot on their first round picks they made it clear they were going to chase higher end talent in lower rounds, and they did that a few picks later when they drafted JR Ritchie out of Bainbridge High School in Washington. The right handed arm was the lone Braves draftee present at the MLB draft and has since joined the organization and made four starts. Ritchie made a strong impression with 4 1⁄3 scoreless innings in the Florida Complex League which earned him the call up to Single-A Augusta at the end of Augusta. Ritchie’s first start went without a hitch as he pitched four scoreless innings, but he had more trouble his second time out and only managed to get through two innings.
Ritchie in his professional outings has attacked the strike zone with his low-to-mid 90’s fastball, but in the prep ranks touched as high as 99 mph and could add velocity more consistently in the future. Right now the Braves don’t have him working there likely for a few reasons, the primary one being that he struggled to maintain that velocity for more than a couple of innings in the amateur ranks and needs to add strength to improve his stamina. They also don’t want to over exert him at the end of a long season for him and likely see more importance to focusing on improving his command and delivery. Ritchie has short extension in his delivery and with that he tend to have ride up in the zone but give hitters a longer look at all of his pitches. Getting his legs a bit more involved could be one of the first steps in Ritchie’s career as that weakness along with some effort in his arm action explains much of the issue with him maintaining his velocity.
Ritchie’s curveball needs more refinement to be a consistently effective pitch, and it has been one of the reasons he hasn’t posted fantastic strikeout rates in his short career. As an amateur we saw him break off some high spin curveballs and sliders, but the iteration of this pitch we’ve seen in Augusta has had less refined spin. The velocity gap on the pitch creates a good tunnel, but the pitch doesn’t fool hitters consistently and hasn’t shown the ability to miss even Single-A bats consistently. His changeup shows flashes of promise with some deep fade, though it can get a bit firm out of the hand. Ritchie matches his fastball’s arm speed well and for a prep arm his changeup is in a good place right now even if it’s not at a level to produce present results consistently.
Arm talent for Ritchie is his real calling card, but he has a lot of refinement left to get his game to the next level. His delivery limits the effectiveness of his pitches in the looks it gives to hitters and may also be contributing to some of his stamina problems. It also isn’t the cleanest arm action and that shows as he has struggled with his command in two starts with Augusta. While he is able to fill up the zone he hasn’t necessarily been hitting his spots though he hasn’t always been far off. Overall his stuff should play well when he keeps his fastball up and the next steps for him are all about developing consistency with all of his pitches. Ritchie isn’t a player I look to move fast through the system and may see some lumps early in his career, but he certainly has the upside of a middle-of-the-rotation starter. He could be perhaps more if his high school velocity can feature more often in games.