A year ago this week University of Kentucky freshman J. T. Riddle was beginning his senior season at Western Hills High School, now he’s leading the Cats in batting while playing a new position.
Riddle led the Cats to a series win in its first Southeastern Conference series of the season versus Tennessee this weekend with five hits, one home run and five RBI. On Friday and Sunday Riddle made diving catches in right field to save extra base hits.
“J. T. Riddle is doing a lot for us right now,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said after UK’s 7-3 win Sunday. “J. T. is catching doubles and triples in right field. He’s knocking in runs.”
Through 20 games Riddle leads the Cats with a .381 batting average. On Sunday he slugged his first collegiate home run.
Riddle’s hot start to his collegiate career has even surprised him.
“I definitely didn’t expect to be where I’m at right now,” Riddle said of his .381 batting average. “I just wanted to come in and play baseball like I always have.”
Riddle has driven in 10 runs this season, scored eight times and stolen four bases all while playing right field for the first time in his life.
“He’s bringing energy to the club,” Henderson said. “He’s fun to watch, He’s inspiring his teammates.”
Riddle was named Mr. Kentucky baseball following his senior season at Western Hills and was drafted in the 35th round of the 2010 draft by the Boston Red Sox. When he arrived at UK he was expected to play shortstop and second base while occasionally pitching. What he wasn’t expected to do was become UK’s every day right fielder and play stellar defense.
“Baseball is baseball,” Riddle said. “Playing outfield is basically catch and throw it where it needs to be thrown.”
When UK lost its first two right fielders on the depth chart, redshirt senior Neiko Johnson and freshman Lucas Witt, to injury, Henderson turned to Riddle out of necessity.
“It hasn’t been bad at all,” Riddle said of the adjustment to playing outfield. “The first game I think I started I came out and made a couple of nice plays. After that I had the confidence to know I can do it.”
At UK’s preseason media day Henderson said Riddle was forcing his way into the lineup by hitting line drives throughout fall practice. Now 20 games into the season Riddle has not only hit his way into the lineup, he may be the team’s most valuable player.