From JUCO to Triple-A, No. 1 Blue Jays prospect’s lightning rise turning heads at Arizona Fall League

Ricky Tiedemann’s unconventional journey, from junior college to the Arizona Fall League, continues to pay off after the left-hander bet on himself coming out of high school. (Photo by Norm Hall/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Ricky Tiedemann graduated high school in the spring of 2020, with hopes of being drafted by an MLB organization. The baseball prospect had tremendous talent, but with the COVID-19 pandemic raging, it was a brutal time for young players to earn attention. The left-handed pitcher committed to San Diego State, but due to the eligibility requirements for the MLB draft, he chose not to wait.

“I kind of just had a feeling I was ready at that time,” Tiedemann said.

His decision at that moment has proved to be the right move, and he now has begun a crucial developmental step in the Arizona Fall League.

Tiedemann is already off to a tremendous start in the desert, earning Arizona Fall League Pitcher of the Week honors Tuesday. The rise to the precipice of the major leagues featured pandemic complications, high risks, and a coach who changed everything.

“I think there are big pros to going to a university, but at the same time, I felt with the exposure I had already built coming out of high school, I had enough exposure to where scouts were already gonna come to the games,” Tiedemann said. “I think I made the right decision in getting my foot in the door as soon as I could.”

Due to an injury in his non-throwing arm, Tiedemann wasn’t going to be selected in the 2020 MLB draft, which was shortened to five rounds, and he needed somewhere to play to prove himself for the 2021 draft.

The Long Beach, California, native decided to decommit from San Diego St. and attend junior college, where he only would need to play one season to be eligible for the draft.

This was easier said than done, however. Only a few schools in California were actively playing during the pandemic. Tiedemann initially joined Long Beach Community College, but the baseball team’s 2021 campaign was canceled.

Tiedemann was running out of options. Then, he got a call from Golden West College baseball coach Andrew Ramos.

“During COVID, it was just about getting on the field,” Tiedemann said. “My biggest thing was I just wanted to get out there and get innings. And he was the first to call, coach Ramos, and I said yes right away. He gave me a place to play.”

Ramos had watched Tiedemann excel for a while, dating back to his days at nearby Lakewood High School. A long-time assistant at Golden West, Ramos became head coach there in 2021. In his first year at the helm, he felt a responsibility to make sure Tiedemann got what he needed.

“You get this prized jewel dropped on you, and my main thing was I didn’t want to mess it up,” Ramos said. “The last thing I want to do was overstep our boundary and try to put our stamp on him, and affect his draft status. I just knew how athletic he was and how talented he was that once he got into pro ball, it was gonna take off.”

The Golden West coaching staff wasn’t focused on large structural changes to Tiedeman’s delivery; that would be the job of the MLB organization that drafted him. The goal was to get him the looks he needed from pro scouts.

At the time, 17 junior colleges in Southern California were playing baseball. Ramos capitalized on this dearth of baseball teams to help his young star. He scheduled Tiedemann’s starts for Thursdays. In doing so, he avoided overlapping with the Division I schedule, which played games on Tuesdays and Fridays.

“Every Thursday was Ricky Tiedemann day down here, because there wasn’t that much else going on,” Ramos said. “He was the biggest commodity out here, so every time he toed the rubber, there was anywhere between literally 10 and 30 scouts.”

The increased spotlight might have been difficult for some kids, with the pressure to display their talent. Not for Tiedemann. The freshman struck out 60 batters in 38 innings, while putting together a 3.55 ERA.

Ramos spoke with numerous MLB scouts during the season. In one instance, he failed to recognize a particularly notable one in attendance.

“He pitched one game against Fullerton Junior College, and there’s a guy standing next to me outside the fence asking me a couple of questions,” Ramos said. “I recognized him, but wasn’t 100% sure who he was. He was in basketball shorts and a T-shirt, and at the end of the game, another scout (asks), ‘Do you know who you’re talking to?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know. Who was that?’ And he’s like, ‘That’s A.J. Preller. The GM for the Padres.’”

While garnering tremendous pro attention, Tiedemann lived at home in Long Beach, about 15 miles from Golden West’s Huntington Beach campus, and cherished the opportunity to be with family during the pandemic.

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“My whole family was back home in California, so being able to stay with them during COVID was a good thing,” Tiedemann said. “I didn’t take that time for granted. I had the opportunity to go to Texas and play JUCO out there, but I wanted to stay close to home and be comfortable.”

Tiedemann’s performance at Golden West led to what he was seeking: a third-round selection in the 2021 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. He immediately entered a throwing program, which accelerated his development.

The southpaw has been able to increase his fastball velocity significantly since entering pro ball.

“I was fortunate enough to have the best facilities and the best trainers in the Blue Jays organization to help me out in unlocking that ability and bring my fastball to where it is,” Tiedemann said. “I think having that fastball keeps the hitter on his toes, having to think about the offspeed pitch. Even if it’s not as good, it’ll work just because of that fastball.”

Currently rated as the Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect by and 31st overall in MLB, Tiedemann has risen up the ranks dramatically since entering the minor leagues. After dominating in Single-A and High-A in 2022, he was promoted to Double-A in just his first season in the minors. Across the three levels of minor league baseball, he finished 2022 with an ERA of 2.17 in 18 starts over 78.2 IP, punching out 117 batters.

With his performance, Tiedemann earned the opportunity to pitch in the 2022 Futures Game during All-Star Weekend. The game happened to be at Dodger Stadium, just minutes from where Tiedemann grew up. Family was in attendance to watch him – and so was Ramos.

Tiedemann spent parts of 2022 and most of 2023 with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Blue Jays Double-A affiliate. Fisher Cats manager Cesar Martin saw lots of improvement on the mound over time but was particularly impressed by his pitcher’s maturity.

“I’m telling you, man, for his age, you’re going to expect a guy to be very shy, and not say much,” Martin said. “But when it comes to talking to other guys to get better, that’s something he does a really good job of. He’s very open-minded, and he wants to improve. He’s a great example for everybody.”

Tiedemann was called up to Triple-A Buffalo in September, and he will begin there next year.

But first, he has a crucial developmental step in front of him: the Arizona Fall League. He is off to a tremendous start in the desert, earning Arizona Fall League Pitcher of the Week honors. With his family in attendance, Tiedemann struck out seven batters in five innings on Oct. 3, allowing just one run on three hits. Tiedemann loves the opportunity to compete against other top prospects.

“It builds some excitement for what’s to come in this league and what we can do on the field together,” Tiedemann said. “I think just bringing everybody together helps your performance as a whole.”

Reuniting with his family serves as a reminder of how far Tiedemann has come in just over two years. Looking back, junior college was undeniably the right decision.

“It kind of gave me the college atmosphere. I was right out of high school. I went to junior college, and it was guys from everywhere. Guys not even from the country were at Golden West, so it was cool, seeing all the diversity and how guys went about their routines.”

Jordy Fee-Platt(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jordy Fee-Platt expects to graduate in December 2023 with a master’s degree. Fee-Platt has announced for Blaze Radio and Pac-12 Stream and covered Cactus High School for AzPreps365. He worked in the Northwoods League as the Duluth Huskies’ broadcaster.