25. Ryan Ritter (133 points, 17 ballots)
The 6’2” 23-year-old shortstop was notable leading up to the 2022 draft out of the University of Kentucky for his elite defense, but the righty also hit a respectable .283/.369/.469 in the SEC, which is usually the toughest conference in the NCAA. The Rockies drafted Ritter 116th overall in the fourth round and signed him for a slightly over-slot $530k bonus.
After a 2022 cameo in the complex league, Ritter was assigned in 2023 to Low-A Fresno (in deference to Adael Amador in High-A), where he was 0.9 years older than league average. In 295 PA with Fresno, Ritter proved he had mastered the level with a .305/.405/.606 line that included 18 homers as part of his 35 extra-base hits (162 wRC+) in just 65 games. In fact, this stretch was so impressive that Ritter was named the MVP of the California League despite not playing the league after July 2nd.
Amador’s late-June injury (and Ritter’s performance) paved the way for an early-July promotion to High-A Spokane, where things weren’t quite as smooth for Ritter. In 201 PA across 46 games, all three triple slash categories cooled down a bit to a still respectable .265/.367/.441 batting line with six homers (121 wRC+) against pitchers who were on average 0.4 years older. That’s more than respectable for an up-the-middle player, so the Rockies promoted Ritter again in early September for a late-season cameo with Double-A Hartford. In eight games, Ritter went 4-for-25 with 11 strikeouts and three walks (42 wRC+).
It was a very successful season offensively for Ritter, but there are valid concerns about his ability to make contact against upper level pitching. While he struck out in about 24% of his Low-A plate appearances, that number rose to 34% in High-A and 38% in Double-A. Defensively, Ritter played predominantly shortstop, committing 12 errors in 102 games there.
Here’s some video of Ritter hitting in the Cape Cod league (during college) courtesy of Prospects Live:
While Ritter has always had plenty of strength, he struggled to use it to impact the ball much during his college days, struggling especially against softer stuff. He’s worked on his overall approach since joining the Rockies organization with a big emphasis on catching the ball out front more consistently, which helped the right-handed hitter go deep 18 times in 65 games with Fresno before his promotion. A solid runner, especially underway, he’s capable of stealing a base now and again.
How much Ritter hits will determine his ultimate role because there’s no question that his glove will play in the big leagues. He’s a very smooth defender with excellent actions and range, soft hands and a good internal clock to go along with a plus arm. He’s also shown he can play positions other than short, with a future utility role the most likely outcome unless his bat continues to progress as he advances.
Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs is more of a doubter, consigning Ritter to the “Up the Middle Depth” section in his system ranking:
Ritter has 14 bombs as of list publication, but he’s coming out of the SEC (he was the Rockies’ 2022 fourth rounder from Kentucky) so he should be crushing the Cal League. He’s striking out 25% of the time and, same as pre-draft, I don’t think he’ll hit enough to make the main section of the list.
Keith Law of the Athletic chimed in on Ritter in his pre-season 2023 system commentary:
Shortstop Ryan Ritter is a plus defender who can whack a fastball, even better velocity. He struggled badly with offspeed stuff as an amateur, which is how the Rockies got him in the fourth round even with those two present skills.
Ritter’s defensive floor is so high that he doesn’t need to be an impact offensive player to be a useful big leaguer. Add in his power surge and strong offensive numbers in 2023 and it’s a package worth ranking 28th on my ballot as a 40 FV player even with the valid concerns that Ritter’s approach at the plate won’t work against high level pitching.
As it was in 2023, Ritter’s minor league placement in 2024 will be determined by what the Rockies do with Amador and Julio Carreras, as the former is understandably more of a priority for the organization and the latter has the inside track to a Triple-A or big league utility spot. My guess is Ritter will end up getting most of his PA this year in Hartford with some time later in the season in Triple-A. Of course, the Rockies could decide to shuffle Amador over to second base in deference to Ezequiel Tovar, meaning that Ritter would benefit with more playing time at short.