SCOTTSDALE, ARI. —
Braves prospect Ray-Patrick Didder enjoyed playing baseball growing up. It was a hobby more than an aspiration. Athletically gifted, signing with a major league team still wasn’t at the forefront of Didder’s mind.
Then fellow Aruban Xander Bogaerts signed with the Red Sox.
“When he got signed, my mind changed,” Didder said. “I just played baseball because I liked baseball. It was like a hobby. But as soon as he got signed, you heard about it – I heard about it because I talk to him a lot – that was just motivating me so I’d sign also. Now he’s in the big leagues, he has two rings.”
An 18-year-old Didder signed with the Braves for $20,000. Now 24, he isn’t a household name. He converted from outfield to shortstop as the organization tried to find his niche. He hasn’t glided through the system at a rate by which Braves fans are perhaps spoiled. But he’s still among the system’s better athletes, capable of carving out a role in the majors as a speed threat.
Didder completed his latest season at the Arizona Fall League, slashing .228/.343/.246 in 15 games. He did steal five bases and score seven runs in that small sample, but those aren’t numbers that’ll jump out.
Maybe his 27 steals (in 32 attempts) across Single-A Florida and Double-A Mississippi last season will.
“I do (take pride in stealing bases),” he said. “Stolen bases I just try to be perfect, but if I get thrown out it’s whatever. There’s always another day, another try to steal bases. Most of the time I think, ‘That’s my tool. I need to use it.’ If we’re down by one or it’s a tied ballgame, I want to be the guy at first who steals second to tie the game or go ahead.”
That’s an important mindset for a player with his skillset. If Didder is going to contribute in the majors, it will be because of his one excellent skill, and one the Braves seem to always need.
Bear in mind the team carried speedser Lane Adams on its postseason roster for that very reason. Adams had pinch-hit success in the past, but his speed and athleticism put him on the roster. Such a role is optimal for Didder, who’s still making strides offensively.
Didder, who has the support of Braves legend Chipper Jones, hit .275 with a .747 OPS in 46 games at Double-A. It was a marked improvement from previous production, giving credence to hopes Didder can eventually serve a role at the highest level.
“There’s a lot of talent,” Didder said of the Braves’ system. “So you as a player, you have to perform and be better than them. They might be your best friend. You might play the same position. But one day you’re going to play, one day you’re not going to play. When you get the chance to play, you just have to perform.”
If the day comes, Didder would be the sixth player from Aruba to make the majors. He knows he’s getting closer, reflecting on his days in the Dominican Summer League and realizing how steep the climb is to reach Double-A.
He’s already seen two friends achieve it quickly in – you may have heard of them – Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna. Like Bogaerts, Albies in particular has helped push him.
“My second year I played with Albies, 2014, in the GCL (Gulf Coast League),” he said. “And when he got moved up to (Low-A) Danville the same year, I kept thinking ‘Man, I want to be with him.’ It’s motivation. I want to get up there so I can play with him. Same with Acuna.”
Didder profiles similarly to Albies. He’s bigger, listed at 6-foot, 170 pounds, but won’t generate the surprising pop Albies has displayed. Still, Didder can be dynamic. He laced seven triples last year and has tripled 21 times in the past three seasons. He only roped nine doubles in 2018 after posted 17 and 15 in the respective years prior.
As for who’d win in a race between Didder and Albies, don’t ask.
“I don’t know,” Didder said, laughing. “He’s from the left side, I’m from the right side. He puts a ball in the gap and we’re just thinking three (bases) all the time.”
Maybe Didder one day joins Bogaerts, Albies and Acuna in the bigs. The more he sees of them, the more he craves it. And however the bat develops, speed and natural athleticism are an asset.
“I want to be there,” he said. “I want to be in the big leagues and be in that spotlight.”