Just over a year ago, the Atlanta Braves selected JR Ritchie the 35th overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. Since then, the 20 year old has faced bumps in the road on and off the field, but his mature and positive attitude remains. In May, Ritchie had to undergo Tommy John Surgery. Off the field, a place he has loved his whole life, the community of Maui, faced tragedy.
The first time he went to Maui, Ritchie was six months old, and has been going back ever since. People his family has known for a long time have lost their homes, or even their lives. Ritchie’s baseball setback has given him time to give back. So far, a GoFundMe effort he launched has raised $16,817 of its 20,000 dollar goal. Ritchie said, “I am sitting here in Florida living a great life, while these people are struggling, so for me and my family, this is the least that we can do.”
Ritchie astutely pointed out, “there is a lot of publicity around events like these for the first week or two, and then it starts to die out and people start to forget. Meanwhile, the families that are suffering are still living in the same situation.” The Braves organization has been helping him through clothes and other donations, with Ritchie calling their help “incredible.”
Ritchie has also been rebuilding on the baseball front, with his Tommy John recovery going smoothly. Ritchie said that he is now pain-free, has a full range of motion and is able to lift weight with his right arm. While it is still three months until he can throw again, there have been no setbacks. During his recovery, Ritchie has taken steps to improve his mental approach on and off the mound, saying meditation has been a big tool for him during this period. He is trying to take a step back and learn from the process rather than have a negative mindset. Ritchie said his mentality is, “I have 12 to 14 months to make myself whoever I want to be.”
During his recovery and while he was pitching, he said the Braves organization has been a tremendous asset. Ritchie says he is “around the best pitching and weightlifting minds and is getting the best possible attention every day.” Ritchie explained the Braves use analytics, but are also willing to use different approaches for players based on what they like to do. He says he likes to look at the vertical approach angle numbers on his fastball. Vertical approach angle (VAA) is largely a product of velocity of the pitch and the release point of the ball. Pitches with an optimal VAA get more swings and misses. Ritchie said he is “more of a feel guy” and uses what works for him rather than actively chasing a certain pitch shape.
Coming from high school in Washington State, not a traditional baseball powerhouse, the transition to pro ball was going to be trial by fire, but Ritchie showed he has the stuff to overpower professional hitters. In the 27.2 innings he has pitched, he struck out 39. He said in high school, he would face at most four guys on a team that are College Division I quality, while in low A, the whole lineup is at least at that level. He stressed that “you need to stay locked in” and that “routine is everything at this level. If you get out of routine and you're midweek throwing or lifting gets thrown off, it can impact your start.” He thinks the time off will help him with his mental approach and routine once he gets back on the mound.
Ritchie is an intelligent, positive player who will hopefully move up the ranks quickly once he gets back on the mound, providing the Braves with yet another high quality arm for the future.