Ryan Ritter has received MLB draft interest dating back to his senior year of high school in 2019. Three teams expressed serious interest in the Illinois native out of high school, with the Chicago Cubs selecting Ritter in the 33rd round of the 2019 draft.
But Ritter felt going to college was the best route for him. He started at the junior-college level and was one of the top junior-college prospects in the 2020 draft. He transferred to Kentucky, though, where he has enhanced his skills and draft status over the last two years.
This year, Ritter is arguably the best defensive shortstop in July’s draft class. He also possesses intriguing potential at the plate. Scouts believe Ritter could hear his name called in the early rounds of this year’s draft.
“I am taking it as another year,” Ritter said. “I’m not overthinking about it. It’s the game of baseball. We have been playing it since we are kids. It has been fun. If I keep doing what I’ve been doing, it will all pay off.”
Ritter is a defensive-first player with advanced tools at shortstop. Scouts rave about his skillset and believe he will remain at shortstop long term. There aren’t any question marks regarding Ritter’s defensive skills, as he’s a smooth fielder who can make all the necessary plays.
Ritter possesses above-average arm strength, solid athleticism, and impressive range and instincts. Scouts believe he is an elite defender who can be a Gold Glove shortstop in the major leagues one day.
“My defense is always something I have had growing up,” Ritter said. “I know I can show that off and stick out doing. Fielding is something you have, or you don’t.”
After batting .342 in his freshman season at John A. Logan (Ill.) College in 2020, Ritter transferred to Kentucky. In 2021, he hit .275 with five doubles, three home runs and 20 RBIs in 178 at-bats in 52 games. This season, Ritter has a .277 batting average with nine doubles, six home runs, and 30 RBIs in 184 at-bats in 47 games.
Ritter, a right-handed hitter, shows potential at the plate. He is a balanced hitter with a short and compact swing. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound shortstop has the potential to be an above-average hitter with respectable power in pro ball.
Ritter needs to improve his plate discipline, however. Ritter has struck out 100 times while drawing 26 walks in 362 at-bats in his two years at Kentucky.
If he can tighten up his approach and avoid swinging at breaking pitches out of the strike zone, Ritter can be an impact offensive player in the future.
“I just want to improve my comfortability in the box,” Ritter said. “For me, I want to feel more grounded. I have been so handsy and weak with my legs, so I just want to get back into a good, strong base. When I feel that, a lot can happen.”
In July, Ritter will hear his name called in the draft. But right now, he is focused on leading Kentucky to the NCAA tournament. This season, Kentucky has a 26-21 record and won two of three games against top-ranked Tennessee last weekend.
The Wildcats are seeking their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2017.
“We just need to keep believing,” Ritter said. “There is a lot more time left in the season. We just need to take it day by day. You never know how each game will go, but we want to remain optimistic and get after it.”
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Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.