Whatever happens in the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft that begins Sunday, Bainbridge High School grad Ian (JR) Ritchie Jr.’s life is going to change in a big way.

Ritchie, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher who dominated opposing hitters this season for the Spartans with a 97-mph fastball, a “wipeout” slider and a standout changeup, is the top-rated Washington-based player in this year’s draft and could be the latest of the state’s baseball stars to be selected in the first round.

In just a matter of weeks, Ritchie might be on his way to some faraway city to begin his professional baseball career. Or he might be headed to Southern California to play for UCLA.

One thing is certain: Whichever team he ends up with is going to be getting one heck of a pitcher.

“He’s a kid that, if he goes pro here in the next month, I could see him being in the big leagues as a 20-year old, two or three years from now,” Bainbridge baseball coach Geoff Brown said. “His stuff is that good and his command. I think what is more impressive is his command.”

After missing out on his sophomore season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ritchie added close to 20 pounds of muscle, leading to a spike in his velocity and had a dominant junior season where he went 6-0 with a 0.38 ERA during the shortened season.

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His senior year, Ritchie rode his upper 90s fastball to a 0.39 ERA, and a 0.453 WHIP, with 75 strikeouts and just four walks in 35⅓ innings. Ritchie allowed just two earned runs and 12 hits to help lead Bainbridge (19-4) to a spot at the state tournament.

Brown, a UW alum who played a few seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league system, described Ritchie’s dominance against certain teams as “comical.”

“A lot of a lot of these teams were trying to ambush his fastball just to be on time for it,” Brown said. “And then that’s when we would switch over, mix in that slider and that’s when they just had no chance. That’s where you started seeing the laughs and kids just shaking their heads like, ‘Holy crap, this isn’t fair.’”

Ritchie lost just one game in high school, in his freshman year. He was a standout hitter too, finishing with a .468 average, a .614 on-base percentage, a 1.533 OPS, and a team-high 35 RBI last season.

Unfortunately for Ritchie, his high-school career didn’t end the way he hoped, as a team-wide COVID outbreak kept Ritchie and several teammates from playing in the team’s 8-0 Class 3A state playoff loss against future champion Mercer Island.

But even with that disappointing ending, Ritchie has plenty to be excited about in the months to come.

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While jumping from high school to either Division I or the pros will be an adjustment, Ritchie isn’t anxious about leaving home. Last summer, he spent nearly 50 days on the road as a member of the EvoShield Canes, an elite travel ball showcase squad that simulates the atmosphere and schedule of a professional baseball team.

Players on the Canes stayed in hotels together and ate, slept, and breathed baseball over the summer while playing against top competition.

“I think it was a huge help,” Ritchie said. “It was a mental grind and a physical grind. There’s a lot of baseball, but at the same time I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I had a great time and the connections and friendships that I made through that team and even against opposing teams it was something I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for.”

With his experience and talent, former longtime MLB scout Darren Wittcke is convinced that Ritchie is ready for life in pro ball.

Wittcke is the Director of Pitching at Gunderson Baseball in the Portland, Oregon, area where Ritchie trains every few weeks. He spent 25 years as a major league scout with the Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants.

“He’s strong, and continues to get stronger,” Wittcke said. “He’s got a very quick arm. I definitely see him as a major league starter down the road.”

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While any player needs seasoning after the draft, Wittcke sees Ritchie making a quick trip through the minors.

“He’s just got a power arm, and those are hard to come by, that’s for sure. ” Wittcke said. “A power arm with an ability to pitch. There are guys that throw really hard, but they don’t really understand how to pitch. He knows how to pitch.”

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With his MLB-level velocity and impeccable control, Ritchie is almost certain to hear his name called in the draft. But where he will end up is anybody’s guess.

ProspectsLive.com has him going as high as No. 19 to the Oakland Athletics, describing his pitch delivery as Effortless and buttery with a definitive starter profile.”

At JustBaseball.com, Ritchie is slated to go No. 34 overall to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

MLB.com has him ranked at No. 47 in this year’s class, noting that he would be the first Bainbridge player drafted since Brian Coleman was picked by Cleveland in the 55th round of the 1990 draft.

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Ritchie would love a chance to pitch for the Mariners, just a quick ferry ride away from his hometown.

“There’s a lot of really great organizations out there,” Ritchie said. “But kind of that hometown hero, hometown kid type of thing, I really would love an opportunity like that.”

Outside of playing baseball, Ritchie says his two favorite hobbies are golf and “Star Wars,” and he has developed a passion for coaching. He has worked as a coach for local Little Leaguers, and has helped out with the Island Baseball Company, which is owned by Brown.

Ritchie recently served as the pitching coach for City Baseball, a Seattle-based 14U team, for a trip they made to Omaha for a tournament during the College World Series.

​​“I had the time of my life being able to do it,” Ritchie said. “I absolutely think whenever I’m done playing and I hang up the cleats, I definitely want to coach and start getting involved in that.”

Ritchie’s recent days have been spent throwing bullpens and getting his body ready for the next step in his career. 

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If he chooses the college route, he’ll go north to play for the Bellingham Bells of the West Coast League, a college wood-bat league, before heading to UCLA.

If he goes pro, he could be in for a multimillion dollar payday, and his next destination would most likely be rookie ball.

No matter what the future holds, Ritchie is ready.

“A lot of it is just excitement and anticipation,” Ritchie said. “I mean, it’s a really cool time in my life. You only get so many opportunities like this. And I’m really fortunate enough to be actually going through it. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid.”