Richard Fitts wasn’t a sought-after recruit out of Helena High in Alabama.
The right-handed pitcher didn’t receive any scholarship offers and only had walk-on opportunities to Auburn and Mississippi State. Fitts fell in love with Auburn’s campus, which led him to commit to Auburn once he received the offer.
In his first 2½ years at Auburn, Fitts has made tremendous strides on the mound. Auburn head coach Butch Thompson and pitching coach Tim Hudson, who had a 17-year MLB career, have helped Fitts transform into one of the top pitchers in college baseball.
His development has caused him to go from a walk-on pitcher to one of the top arms in July’s MLB draft. Fitts is a potential first-round pick and will have professional scouts in attendance at each of his starts this spring.
“It is really cool, honestly,” Fitts said. “I never thought I would be in the position I am now. That’s not because I didn’t think I could do it, but it was more that I didn’t know if I would get the opportunity to. This has really been a dream come true. There are a lot more things I want to accomplish when it comes to that dream, though.”
Fitts has pitched primarily out of the bullpen in his first two years at Auburn. As a freshman in 2019, Fitts posted a 5.31 ERA with 47 strikeouts and 17 walks allowed in 62 2/3 innings. He made 21 appearances, including five starts, and showed growth throughout the season.
Last year, Fitts took a step forward and performed well until the COVID-19 pandemic caused the season to end prematurely. Fitts recorded a 2.77 ERA with 16 strikeouts and five walks allowed in 13 innings in the shortened season. The then-sophomore pitcher made six appearances, including one start.
This spring, Fitts will move into the starting rotation. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander throws a four-seam fastball, two-seamer, slider and recently developed changeup from a three-quarters arm slot and sound delivery.
His fastballs are above-average offerings that sit in the mid-90s and touched 98 mph in the fall. He is a fastball-heavy pitcher who isn’t afraid to attack hitters with his fastball.
Fitts shows promise with his secondary pitches. At Auburn, his slider has experienced numerous changes. He has changed the grip of the pitch “three or four times,” he said. Over the last year, he has found a grip that he’s comfortable with and believes he will stick with moving forward.
In the offseason, Fitts developed a changeup. Fitts was throwing a splitter last spring but wasn’t satisfied with the pitch. He realized it wasn’t the right pitch for him, causing him to try the changeup. He throws his changeup in the high-80s, causing it to look almost like a hard sinker.
Fitts has confidence in all four of his pitches and has the build, arsenal and mindset to thrive as a starting pitcher.
“My confidence,” said Fitts on his biggest strength. “I like to say confidence because I know what it’s like not having confidence and how much that affects your game. I know if I don’t have that, then I am not going to be successful.”
This spring, Fitts wants to prove that he can handle a starter’s workload while maintaining his velocity late into starts.
“I want to pitch a lot of innings,” Fitts said. “I want to pitch complete games. As someone who hasn’t started much in college, that is something that I am new to and want to improve on with the pitching side of pitching more innings at a time.”
Fitts has high expectations for his junior season. Besides continuing his development on the mound, he hopes to play an integral role in helping Auburn make a deep postseason run.
This season, the Tigers are seeking their second consecutive trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, and their first-ever national championship.
“I want to be the best pitcher in college baseball,” Fitts said. “I want to be an All-American, I want to win a College World Series in Omaha, and then I want to take the next step in my career and play pro ball. My goal is to be the best version of myself that I can be.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He’s interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.