The Braves selected three hard-throwing high school righthanders to lead off the 2022 draft. Among them was JR Ritchie, a Seattle native who begins his first full season at Low-A Augusta.
Ritchie showed a big arm in high school, reaching the 98-99 mph range. He also showed a propensity for attacking the strike zone.
The righthander made three starts for Augusta late last season after being drafted in the supplemental first round and had a 2.70 ERA in 10 innings, striking out 10 and walking four.
Still just 19 years old, Ritchie will continue working on pitch refinement and harnessing what could become a powerful right arm.
His pure ability is evident, which is why former Braves vice president of scouting Dana Brown admitted he was surprised Ritchie slipped to No. 35 overall, especially since he had Ritchie graded just behind Owen Murphy, whom the Braves took at No. 20.
Brown said at the time that Murphy’s athleticism was the separating factor between him and the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Ritchie.
Ritchie’s top pitch is his slider, which seems on its way to being a valuable putaway option. He also throws a changeup and curveball that need further development. Considering Ritchie’s age, it’s easy to be excited about what he could be four years down the line.
As is the case with many young pitchers, Ritchie’s command can be a bit erratic. Even though there are a wide range of outcomes for Ritchie, the Braves have done a nice job with this type of pitcher recently.
Ritchie, Murphy and Spencer Schwellenbach are all Low-A teammates. They might be the Braves’ three best pitching prospects who haven’t reached the majors. It will be fascinating to see their developmental timelines.
— High-A Rome righthander AJ Smith-Shawver generated a lot of buzz this spring. He has a big arm that could help put him on a fast track.
— Righthander Cole Phillips, a second-rounder last year, should make his debut sometime this summer. He had Tommy John surgery during his senior year of high school and has yet to pitch for a Braves affiliate. A healthy Phillips could work his way into the mix of the organization’s top pitching prospects.