The Atlanta Braves picked up a Competitive Balance Round A pick (no. 35 overall) leading up to the 2022 MLB Draft from the Royals in an unusual midseason trade that sent prospects, including Drew Waters, back to Kansas City. With that added pick (and the extra slot money that came with it), the Braves selected right-handed pitcher Ian “JR” Ritchie Jr. out of Bainbridge High School in Washington. After going underslot with their first-round pick, Atlanta was able to get Ritchie to bypass his UCLA college commitment with an over-slot deal of $2.4 million.
2022 Draft Report Card
The second of four straight pitchers that Atlanta selected to open up their 2022 draft class, Ritchie came out of high school featuring a high 90s fastball and an intriguing pitch mix that featured a slider, changeup and curveball. While he often wasn’t able to sustain the velocity deep into games in high school, Ritchie used his slider to miss plenty of bats and shoot up draft boards. Projected by many as an early-rounder thanks to his velocity, pitchability and potential, the Braves snagged him between rounds one and two.
What we saw in 2022
The Braves started Ritchie off in Rookie ball following the draft, with a pair of starts in the Florida Complex League. While Ritchie got just six and seven outs, respectively, in those starts, he allowed just a single hit in each game, while combining for four strikeouts and a walk.
At the end of August, Ritchie was moved up to full-season ball with Augusta to make three more starts before the 2022 season ended. Ritchie sandwiched a pair of solid starts around a poor one, but showcased plenty of arm talent in his limited action as a pro. His final start of 2022 was his best one, as Ritchie threw four innings of one-run ball, striking out six with no free passes. He filled up the zone, throwing 38 strikes in 49 pitches, and his only run allowed came on a solo home run.
Garrett Spain wrote up a great in-depth review of some first impressions of Ritchie here. Garrett noted that Ritchie’s fastball velocity with Augusta was down a couple of ticks, only touching the mid-90s, from what he threw coming out of high school. Whether that was due to the Braves trying to help him maintain velocity longer in games, or just the organization being conservative with a young player in the early days of his professional career, it makes for an interesting data point heading into 2023.
There’s a lot to like about a young pitcher with a good fastball and juicy offspeed stuff that is just starting his professional career. Ritchie will likely begin the 2023 campaign as a top-10 Braves prospect and could sniff the top five on some lists. While that does say something about the current state of the Braves’ farm system, Ritchie has high upside and will be one for Braves fans to keep a close eye on next year.
One aspect of Ritchie’s 2022 with the Braves that Garrett noted in his “first impressions” article and is worth repeating here – sharpening up what has the potential to be a very clean delivery will likely be high on the Braves’ priority list for Ritchie in 2023. Ritchie was inconsistent with his delivery, leading to some trouble.
In the current regime, the Braves have let pitchers, especially prep arms, take their time developing through the minors. It’s a safe bet that Ritchie will return to Low-A Augusta to start 2023 with a shot at advancing to High-A Rome at some point during the season if he shows the requisite ability and development.