With the 35th pick in the 2022 Major League Baseball Draft Sunday the Atlanta Braves selected right-handed pitcher JR Ritchie out of Bainbridge High School.
“It’s just the start of a journey,” Ritchie said during an interview with MLB Network. “They are getting the hardest worker in this draft. Nobody is going to outwork me.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound pitcher has yet to make an official decision on going pro or pitching at UCLA.
The Bainbridge native is the first baseball player from the island to be drafted in the MLB since Brian Coleman in 1990. In addition, he is the highest draft pick from Kitsap County since North Kitsap’s Aaron Sele went 23rd to the Boston Red Sox in 1991.
Ritchie was in the green room with his family in Los Angeles when he heard his name called by former Atlanta Braves star Fred McGriff. “It’s a pretty surreal experience,” Ritchie said. “I’ve dreamed of playing Major League Baseball since I was a little kid.”
Ritchie added he could not have made it to the MLB without his family and Bainbridge community. “[My dad] has been my guy since Day 1,” Ritchie said. “He’s always traveling with me to baseball tournaments all over the country. He’s always been my biggest believer.”
He added, “[Bainbridge is] a small community, and they have had my back for many years, and I can’t ask for a better community to grow up in.”
Despite saying he is not concerned about money, the 35th pick value is over $2.2 million. If Ritchie does not sign with the Braves by Aug. 1, he will look to attend UCLA.
Ritchie’s final decision will come down to the right fit. “It’s about finding a team that believes in me as much as I believe in myself,” Ritchie said. “I think if I can find that fit with a team and I can be the guy in a couple of years, it would be an opportunity you can’t pass up.”
Before the draft
Ritchie was considered one of the top-50 prospects, so he was invited to take part at the draft and MLB All-Star events this week. “I was at a friend’s house, and my dad called me with a lower tone to his voice and told me the MLB called,” Ritchie said before the draft. “I thought I did something wrong but he told me I was invited to go to the draft and be a part of the All-Star festivities.”
Ritchie was in the green room in Los Angeles on draft night and on the field during the Home Run Derby and All-Star game. “When I found out, I didn’t want to look back and think I wish I did that,” Ritchie said. “It is a no-brainer to go to.”
Day 1 included the first two rounds and supplemental rounds, totaling 80 picks.
Ritchie said before the draft he was still weighing his options.
“At this point, any path that ends up being taken is a good path,” Ritchie said. “I have a lot of good choices in front of me, whether that’s going in the draft and signing with a Major League club or going to UCLA for a couple of years.”
Even if Ritchie passes on the MLB, it will be a significant moment for him and Bainbridge.
“Being from Kitsap County, there is already a slim chance of this whole entire situation happening,” Ritchie said. “If you asked me five years ago that I have an opportunity to go down to the draft, I would’ve said there’s a zero percent chance. I’m just embracing the situation and having fun with it because there are only so many opportunities like this in life.”
Although Kitsap County has seen a handful of baseball players drafted within the first few rounds, none have come from Bainbridge Island. Besides Coleman and Sele, Todd Linden and Drew Vettleson came from Central Kitsap, and Willie Bloomquist from South Kitsap.
Therefore, Ritchie made history for BI.
“It would be really special, especially on Bainbridge Island. To have an influence and impact in a positive way is one of the biggest things for me. There are not a whole lot of people from around here that have been drafted in the first and second round so it would be really special to me to give the community something to be proud about,” he said days before the draft.
Ritchie has been trying to keep cool about it. In these last few weeks since graduating from BHS, he has been hanging out with friends, including a camping trip. However, within a few days, the small-town boy will be in the national limelight.
“In my mind, I’m still some high school kid,” Ritchie said. “When you think of athletes from Bainbridge Island, you think of Emily Silver and Steven Gray. Some people are bringing my name up and it’s surreal to even be in that conversation about it. It’s crazy how everyone has been so supportive. Everyone in this community has my back.”