The former “Mr. Baseball” for his home-state of Kentucky, JT Riddle has taken a slow yet steady journey throughout the Marlins organization. Often categorized as good at most things, but not great at any single element of the game, Riddle now looks to prove that the shortstop position is his to lose.
In what should be a competitive race with Miguel Rojas for the Opening Day nod, let’s take a look at what Riddle can bring to the Marlins in 2019.
How did he get here? Selected by Marlins in 13th round of 2013 draft
2018 MLB Stats: .231/.277/.377, 9 HR, 36 RBI in 102 G
ZiPS 2019 Projection: .245/.286/.371, 9 HR, 48 RBI, in 119 G
While no single tool or measure of production stands out as above average, there is something comforting about Riddle’s career 2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and 13 Defensive Runs Saved. Meanwhile, the lineup around him is highly reliant on players with less major league success or veterans who may be over the hill.
The Marlins would value consistency from their shortstop. With Riddle manning the 6-hole defensively, the Marlins know what they are receiving on the regular, with little to no variability in performance.
Additionally, some believe that his ceiling has not yet been reached. With certain adjustments at the plate, Riddle could still emerge as a long-term answer at short for an organization that is severely lacking talent at that position. The Marlins think highly of infielders José Devers and Osiris Johnson, but both of their ETAs are at minimum two years away and should not be counted on until at least 2021.
What needs to happen for Riddle to take that next step?
The answer is found in years of scouting reports that pegged Riddle as a potential everyday shortstop. Research back to Riddle’s early reports in pro ball and the common thought shared by evaluators was that his sneaky gap and pull power could take his profile to a different tier. Developing a glove-first shortstop and unlocking additional slugging would be a significant success for Gary Denbo and company.
It seems that Riddle began tapping into his power in 2018, hitting a home run in approximately every 34 at-bats; a significant increase in production from his 2017 campaign. With that being said, his slugging was otherwise absent. Vast majority of his hits were singles, with Riddle only collecting 10 two-baggers and four triples in 2018.
For Riddle to take the next step in his progression, he needs to produce more consistent power, particularly his gap production. Miami knows what Riddle will yield defensively; it’s now time to see if his bat has enough life to allow him to reach his ceiling.