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Every Friday is the same.
As the weekend begins, baseball fans flood into Nat Bailey Stadium, home of the Vancouver Canadians, or one of five other Northwest League ballparks to get their fix of High-A baseball.
When Ricky Tiedemann takes the hill, though, the crowd gets a major-league showcase for a minor-league price. With his socks tucked high, the left-hander struts his massive 6-foot-4 frame around the mound with an air of confidence and elegance that greatly exceeds his pedigree at just 19 years old.
His delivery is fluid; his pitches are devastating, and Tiedemann repeats his dominance once a week. The Toronto Blue Jays prospect already has the attitude of a big-leaguer. He’s confident, but never cocky. Tiedemann described himself as “stone-faced” between the chalked lines, meaning you’d never know the quality of his outing by the look on his face.
The thing is, Tiedemann has yet to have a bad performance in his first 11 professional starts. After slicing his way through hitters at the Low-A level, the lefty earned a promotion to Vancouver, where he’s done more of the same, posting an 0.38 ERA with 35 strikeouts through 23.2 innings.
A third-round draft pick by Toronto in 2021, Tiedemann was left off the top-100 prospect leaderboards to begin the season. With each excellent start, though, his hype has increased. Now Tiedemann sits as the Blue Jays’ fourth-best prospect and the 95th-best up-and-comer in all of baseball, per MLB Pipeline.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 17, 2022
Very quickly, Tiedemann has evolved into the Blue Jays’ most valuable pitching prospect. For those who know him best, however, his rapid development comes as no surprise.
“I knew he was going to be something special,” said Tai Tiedemann, Ricky’s older brother.
Like Ricky, Tai pursued a career in professional baseball and was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2016. As Tai ramped up his workload as a pitcher in the Rangers system, he kept tabs on Ricky, his youngest of five brothers.
As Ricky rose through high school and junior college, he turned to Tai for advice on how to handle the draft day experience and the transition into professional baseball.
“I kind of had a good grasp on what to expect when I got here,” Ricky said. “And it's been pretty good to me so far.”
But the brothers’ relationship works both ways, and Ricky and Tai have learned from each other. Now into his sixth season in the Rangers’ minor-league system, Tai finds himself emulating Ricky, especially when the stresses of the game start to mount.
“Going into the minor leagues, you take your licks mentally,” Tai said, adding that he really struggled in April of this year. “And, as weird as it sounds, maybe I need to be a little bit more like my little brother, in a sense, going out there not really having any care in the world. Just going out there to play and letting my ability take over. Because that’s something that [Ricky] is extremely good at.”
A key component of Ricky's profile as a potential workhorse starting pitcher is his slow heartbeat and self-confidence. Those qualities allow him to keep getting better as the Blue Jays raise the stakes by promoting him.
“I'm a really happy-go-lucky guy off the field,” Ricky said. “But I know once you step in between the lines, it's really business, and the coaches are looking for consistency … Just really focused, don't really get distracted out there, just pitch, play my game. That's how I do it every time. It's been working so far.”
Although Ricky has a strong work ethic that gives him a solid foundation on which to stand, his pitch mix is what really sets him apart from other pitchers his age. Ricky throws a fastball and a slider, like most young arms, but it's his incredible feel for the changeup that has made him such a weapon.
“Back when I was around nine years old, my travel ball coach taught me how to throw [the changeup], and I’ve kind of held it the same ever since; never really changed it,” Ricky said. “It’s been my bread and butter ever since I was a kid.”
Sometimes, other pitchers overthink the off-speed pitch, squeezing the ball too hard and overthrowing it. Ricky dictates the location and movement of his changeup by holding the ball very loosely in a traditional circle-change grip. His effortless control over the offering makes other pitchers jealous — just ask Tai.
“When I got into pro ball, people were telling me like, ‘You're not going to succeed as a starter or even as a long-relief guy if you don't have a changeup,’” Tai recalled. “And I'm 20 years old, trying to figure out a changeup, and Ricky is 13 years old, been throwing it for his whole life, making it look easy.
“So having that pitch as his go-to pitch coming into pro ball, everything was just gonna play off that. And that’s just been a gift for him.”
With the reliable changeup in his back pocket, Ricky can hammer left-handed hitters inside with the plus-fastball and then dice them with a sweeping slider away. Additionally, Ricky can switch to the changeup against both right-handed and left-handed hitters if the slider isn't performing well on a particular day (he occasionally "twists off" the breaking ball, which reduces its effectiveness).
Another significant step in Ricky's growth has been the addition of muscle to his tall frame. Prospects go through "phases" of workouts with the Blue Jays. To stay loose, pitchers must perform lower body exercises, mobility drills, and even yoga, which Ricky now enjoys.
Since the end of his late high school days, he’s gained about 30 pounds. His new weight-training regimen has allowed him to use more of his legs and glutes while raising the velocity of his fastball into the mid- to upper-90s.
The Blue Jays are slow-playing Ricky’s progression through the minors, even as he’s aced every test he’s been given. With the way he’s been pitching, a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire doesn’t seem far off, though Ricky insists he’s only focused on what he can control and will pitch where the organization wants him to.
Ricky has put the baseball world on notice, regardless of where he winds up by season’s end — his numbers, his attitude on the mound, and his raw talent have made him one of the hottest prospects in the game. With so much more baseball left to play, Toronto's prized left-hander is only just getting started.
“It's unbelievable,” said Tai. “I always tell people, ‘I know this is my little brother, but this guy is a million-dollar arm. He's a million-dollar baseball player.’ And even though I know he's my family, I truly believe that even if he wasn't my family, I’d be saying the same thing.”
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