Rockies strike gold (glove) at shortstop on Day 2

July 19th, 2022

DENVER -- Ryan Ritter developed his fielding style by throwing any kind of ball he could find against his family’s house in Evergreen Park, Ill., and fielding the rebound, then gathering with his friends for fun in the infield dirt.

“We’d go to the high school field and just take a bunch of grounders, under our legs and stuff,” Ritter said.

Out of those carefree days came a style that allowed Ritter to develop into the top fielding shortstop in college baseball at the University of Kentucky this year. The Rawlings Gold Glove Award at the collegiate level serves as proof.

And the Rockies believe that if Ritter’s offense and physical maturity can match his defense, they may have struck gold themselves in the fourth round of the MLB Draft, 116th overall.

Ritter, listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, is working on the offense. In 2021 with Cotuit in the Cape Cod League (a collegiate wood-bat circuit for top prospects), he struggled initially but finished with a .330 batting average and an .860 OPS in 109 plate appearances. He said he “struggled this year” at Kentucky, but his final slash line (.283/.369/.469, eight home runs) was solid. In 21 games this year back with Cotuit, he batted .262 with three home runs.

Marc Gustafson, the Rockies’ senior director of scouting operations, went to the Cape Cod League before the Draft to assess Ritter. This tweet from a Cape Cod game this season shows the swing the Rockies would like to unlock.

“This guy is some kind of fielder,” said Danny Montgomery, the Rockies’ vice president and assistant general manager of scouting, who made a trip to see Ritter play this fall on the recommendation of the club’s other scouts. “He can pick the ball up with the best of them. The only thing that’s holding him back is the offensive part of it.

“If this kid figures the offensive side of things out, we’ve got some kind of offense, some kind of athlete with some kind of defense. I don’t care if he’s a bottom-of-the-order bat, we may have something, because defensively he’s going to get it done.”

Ritter, 21, who will go to the Rockies’ complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., after completing his physical in Denver, knows that hard work and natural athletic ability can lead to success.

His father, Ken, played baseball at North Central College and set a national Division 3 record for batting average (.577) that still stands. His mother, Maureen, played volleyball at a national championship level in high school. Ryan Ritter is the oldest of seven children, and the oldest of his sisters, Kaleigh, plays volleyball at St. Xavier University in Chicago and was freshman of the year in her conference.

Ritter himself has already done quite a bit of physical developing. He wanted to play football, but at 5-foot-4 and around 100 pounds as a freshman at Lincoln-Way East High in Frankfort, Ill., he decided against it. He developed rapidly enough in baseball that the Cubs drafted him in the 33rd round in 2019. Instead, he went to John A. Logan College, a two-year school, and was recruited by Kentucky.

Ritter said he is looking forward to having time for nutrition, training and hitting development, with school behind him.

But he will always be the little guy firing the ball against the house and getting dirty emulating the most entertaining Major Leaguers, such as Javier Báez and Francisco Lindor. And he is thankful no coach tried to drill away his creativity.

“I work hard on so many plays until they become natural,” he said. “To the crowd they may be difficult, but for me they are comfortable.”