KC Royals: Meet Stephen Ridings, strikeout machine

(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

A pitcher the KC Royals obtained in a 2019 minor league trade has become a strikeout machine.

Nestled close to Philadelphia, about three miles from the City of Brotherly Love, stands Haverford College, a small but excellent liberal arts school likely known more for its sterling academics and distinguished alumni than its good Division III baseball program. Stephen Ridings is a Haverford graduate who may someday take his place among Haverford alums who’ve won Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes; for now, he is a pitcher in the KC Royals organization just trying to make it to the major leagues.

Ridings put himself on big-league radar in 2016 when, as a junior pitching for the Fords (winners of three recent Centennial Conference championships) the right-hander struck out almost 12 batters per nine innings and went 6-3 with a tidy 2.62 ERA. The Cubs drafted him in the eighth round of that year’s draft; the Haverford chemistry major decided to forego his senior season and signed with Chicago. (He ultimately earned his degree).

But Ridings’ career took a detour before he threw a professional pitch. Arm trouble was discovered and the young hurler underwent Tommy John surgery.

The 6-foot-8 Ridings recovered, pitched for the Cubs’ Arizona Rookie League team in 2017 and quickly proved his ability to strikeout hitters, fanning an average of 10.64 per nine innings. But he also battled control, walking a ghastly 8.18 per nine frames, and had a 4.09 ERA.

Ridings moved up to Eugene, the Cubs’ Class A short season affiliate, for 2018. His already good strikeout rate increased to 11.42; fortunately, his walk rate decreased dramatically to 3.89. He finished the campaign 3-3 with a 4.15 ERA in 22 relief appearances.

Probably intrigued by his prolific strikeout rate and impressed by his mid-90’s fastball, the KC Royals landed Ridings in a spring training trade last season, giving up outfielder Donnie Dewees to get him. The new Royal spent 2019 with the club’s Idaho Falls Rookie Advance team where his SO9 jumped to 14.06 (88 strikeouts in 56.1 innings). His control, though, remained troubling–he walked over 4½ batters per nine innings. And his ERA increased to 5.91. (He was 4-3 in 13 games).

Clearly, Ridings knows how to get pitches past hitters–he’s averaging 12.58 strikeouts every nine innings over his three pro seasons. His control is another matter; he’ll need to harness it, but at 24 (he’ll be 25 in August) he has time to improve a disturbing 5.10 BB9. The KC Royals scheduled him for the Arizona Fall Instructional League, where he could work on sharpening his control, after last season,

Ridings’ alma mater has major league history–many Haverford graduates have been well-placed in major league front offices and at least four Fords have been drafted, but it appears Ridings would be the first to make it to The Show as a player. He’s currently listed on Triple-A Omaha’s roster (an assignment to Class A or AA seems more likely when baseball resumes); if he continues to fan as many batters as he has for three professional seasons, and manages his control, Ridings has a shot at Kauffman Stadium.

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Time will tell if Stephen Ridings becomes a big-league pitcher for the KC Royals. Hopefully he will. The club can always use a strikeout machine.