As an MLB Draft prospect, you want to do everything possible to make yourself more appealing to scouts. A reputation of having a bad attitude is never a good thing. A suspension, as was the case with Western Carolina outfielder Julian Ridings, only amplifies the issue. But from a team perspective and especially in the case of the Rays, those players with character issues are exactly the type of players that you target in the later rounds of the draft. As long as Ridings can prove that the suspension was a blip on the radar, his abilities give him a chance to vastly outperform his draft slot.
In his first professional game for the Short Season-A Hudson Valley Renegades last night, Julian Ridings went 4 for 5 with a stolen base, an RBI, and 2 runs scored. Ridings will not be baseball’s first .800 hitter–but he showcased the talent that tantalized the Rays so late in the draft. 6’2″ and 170 pounds, Ridings is an athletic player with solid talent across the board. Ridings doesn’t have a true plus tool but he stands out most for his above-average if not plus speed.
Ridings isn’t a blazing runner, but he does a great job making his speed play up by doing all the little things speed players need to do. He’s an excellent bunter, using that skill to get on base quite a bit, and he shows great instincts on the basepaths to steal bases at a higher percentage. And at the plate, Ridings makes a lot of contact on the ground and hustles out a good amount of singles. That strategy won’t work as well at higher levels because he’s not as fast as say Michael Bourn, but the good news is that he shows promise to be more than a tap hitter. Ridings mostly uses a compact swing, but he has picked his spots to lengthen his swing and hit for some power. His bat speed is average and he won’t be a major home run threat, but he should be able to hit a good amount of liners to the gaps. Ridings has learned to use patience at the plate as an avenue to get on base, although sub-par pitch recognition leads to too many whiffs for a player with such a short swing. Ridings has work to do at the plate, but his patience and ability to take advantage of his speed give him something to build on. Even if he doesn’t hit for much power or strikes out a little too often, his speed gives him a margin for error and increases his chances of making a big league impact someday.
Defensively, Ridings has to profile as a centerfielder because he doesn’t fit well in a corner spot, but he does show the ability to stay there. He shows good routes in centerfield to along with a solid arm, and he projects as an average defender. Adding his defense to his offense, Ridings’ all-around skillset could very well lead to descriptions as a “grinder” and an “all-out player,” somewhat ironic given his troubled recent past, but as long as he stays in the headlines for the right reasons, those adjectives could very well come to be used. Ridings was certainly not a topflight talent taking away the suspension, but he’s a player with a chance to be a starting centerfielder or a strong 4th outfielder and getting a player like that in the 18th round would be unbelievable. We’ll have to see if Ridings can shake whatever real or perceived attitude problems brought him down to live up to his potential. One thing we do know, though, is that with 4 hits in his first game, he’s off to a very good start.