An unsung hero of the 2018 SALTY League Championship Lexington Legends is a right-handed relief pitched named Tad Ratliff. Ratliff was a non-drafted free agent signing from Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina back in 2017. Ratliff signed after his junior year at LRU where he worked exclusively as a reliever. LRU is a D2 school who plays in the South Atlantic Conference. Ratliff pitched in every playoff game for the Legends this season. In those 6 games he threw 7.0 innings giving up one run on a solo home run, 8 hits although most were bloop or weak grounders, no walks, 10 Ks, and logged 4 saves.
Ratliff can work up to 98 as evidenced in the final inning of the SALTY League Championship Series last week as he worked for the save. Typically the 6’2” RHP will work 92-95 with a little bit of arm side run. Ratliff does throw a slider that is upper 80s and has some 1-7 movement from the pitcher’s perspective. The movement starts early and is not classic breaking ball break as it is not a big movement. The pitch comes in hard which makes me think of it as a slider rather than a curve although I’ve heard it called both. Ratliff probably needs to work on getting the pitch to move later with better shape. The pitch grip looks more like a curveball grip although I can’t say for sure what he calls it but Melendez was using the number two to call it which is typically a curveball number. Ratliff can work at the top of the zone with his fastball as well as the bottom of the zone. When he is down, Ratliff has good downhill tilt which makes it tough for hitters to square up. Ratliff also throws a change up occasionally which has a little more arm side run. I’ve seen him throw it to both RHHs and LHHs.
Ratliff works out of the stretch. He uses a quick leg lift and throws from what I would call a normal arm angle. It’s not over the top or three-quarters, but right where most people throw from.
Digging into his 2018 numbers a little more he posted a 9.87 K/9 rating with just 1.86 BB/9. This is an extremely good strikeout to walk ratio at just over 5:1 and hopefully he can keep it going as he moves up the ladder. Ratliff posted a 1.68 ERA with an 82.7% stranded rate. This LOB rate is better than normal and probably accounts for a lower ERA than his 2.50 FIP and 3.05 xFIP predict. Another great number for Ratliff was his 4.3% HR per fly ball rate. This is very low and will be tough to repeat as hitters become more advanced and he graduates to more hitter friendly ballparks like Arvest and Werner Park. Ratliff is more of a ground ball pitcher getting them at a rate of 46% of balls in play. His fly ball rate was 37.3% and his line drive rate was 16.7%. Hitters pull Ratliff at a rate of 39.5%. He gives up balls to the middle of the field in approximately 26.4% of at bats and an oppo rate of 34.1%.
As Ratliff moves to Wilmington, look for some regression in these numbers. It will be extremely difficult to repeat his numbers going forward but if he can, he will be a legitimate relief prospect for the Royals. If things go right, he could be at NWA by the end of the season pitching in another playoff run for the Naturals.