Vancouver Canadians third baseman Riley Tirotta swings the bat in this episode of C’s Chat.
The pride of South Bend, Indiana was a 12th-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2021 MLB Draft out of Dayton. That was the highest a Flyers position player had ever gone in the draft. Tirotta had a breakout 2021 with Dayton by hitting .337/.451/.696 with 13 doubles, two triples and 16 home runs with 58 runs batted in. He also stole 14 bases in 17 tries.
Even though the 6-foot-3, 195-pound righthanded hitter struggled in 2020 by hitting just .228 with one home run in 14 games, Perfect Game and D1Baseball.com tabbed Tirotta as its Preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year for 2021. Tirotta proved them right as his 16 homers last year was tied for the most in the Atlantic 10 Conference, his .696 slugging percentage tied him for second and his 58 RBI tied him for third. He was also on the watch list for the Bobby Bragan Collegiate Slugger Award and was named to the All-Atlantic 10 Second Team and A-10 All-Championship squad.
Tirotta combined his strong play on the diamond by excelling in the classroom as he was named to the Atlantic 10 Commissioner’s Honor Roll for 2017-2018 and 2019-2020 and the University of Dayton’s Dean’s List in the fall of 2018. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in finance.
Before making it to Dayton, Tirotta starred at Marian High School in Mishawaka, Indiana where he hit .535 in his senior year. He was voted Team MVP and captain for his final two years of high school and earned All-Conference honours and an All-State Honorable Mention.
In Baseball America‘s 2021 draft report card on the Blue Jays, Tirotta was named the fastest runner and the best defensive player. BA noted that Tirotta stole 43 bases to give him a success rate of just over 82 percent during his four years with Dayton and added that the “Blue Jays believe in Tirotta’s athleticism and arm strength at first base.”
After receiving a $125,000 signing bonus, Tirotta was off to Dunedin to begin his professional career with the Dunedin Blue Jays. He lined the first pitch he saw for a base hit to right field against Fort Myers in the first game of a doubleheader August 4 and jumped on the next pitch he saw in his second at-bat to pick up an infield single to first. Tirotta then stole second base and scored his first run. In game two of the doubleheader, he turned in another 2-for-3 performance with a run scored and a stolen base.
Tirotta had a perfect night at the plate by going 3-for-3 with a walk and singled home what turned out to be the winning run in Lakeland August 29. His first home run came against Palm Beach September 5 and he completed his first season by hitting .305 with a .429 on-base percentage and a .390 slugging mark in 30 games. Tirotta had at least one hit in 20 games and reached base with at least a walk or a hit by pitch in six others.
In his 2022 Canadians debut, Tirotta singled in his second at-bat and doubled home the winning run in the 10th inning to give Vancouver an opening night victory in Spokane April 8 and wound up with five hits during the three-game set in Eastern Washington. He drove in the winning run with an RBI single in Tri-City in the first game of a doubleheader April 15. Two days later, Tirotta belted a three-run home run against the Dust Devils to put Monty’s Mounties ahead to stay April 17. His first homer at Nat Bailey Stadium was also a three-run shot to help the C’s completed a doubleheader sweep of the Eugene Emeralds April 22. His third homer came in Hillsboro April 27.
After playing exclusively at third base for Dunedin in 2021, Tirotta has seen time at first base and right field in addition to the hot corner with Vancouver this season.
C’s Plus Baseball caught up with Tirotta to chat about his draft day, his college career and life as a pro ball player. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
C’s Plus Baseball – You were drafted in the 12th round in 2021. Talk about your draft experience.
Riley Tirotta – The draft was a little bit different for me. I kind of went back-to-back years with the draft because as a junior, with COVID and everything and a five-round draft so it got shortened. I didn’t get picked, didn’t end up signing as a free agent, so I went back to school, got my degree and everything like that so that was good. Then the 2021 draft came around. That was about the same spot as I was before, seventh-eighth round. It didn’t end up working out that early for me and ended up getting picked in the 12th, but you know, it’s obviously just a dream come true man, to play professional baseball. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and for that day to happen, it’s incredible.
CPB – Did you have a draft day party or was it just kind of a pretty low-key event? What was it like when you found out?
RT – On draft day, it was just my family and I and my grandparents were in the room as well. But you know, it was just so long we were sitting there, you know, it could have been 12 hours worth of picks, you know, that I didn’t get picked that I could have gone, so it was tough. But yeah, the day after a lot of family came in town, a lot of friends came in town and then had a party with the Wednesday before and then that Thursday, they called me down to Dunedin.
CPB – Did you have any idea that it was going to be the Blue Jays (to select you)? Were there other teams that maybe you thought you might go to?
RT – Yeah, there were a lot of teams that talked to my (advisor) and things like that. But from day one, the Blue Jays Tom Burns up in the Ohio area, he’s always at the games, you know, and kind of built a relationship with him through that process.
CPB – And he was your signing scout, Tom Burns?
RT – Yes sir.
CPB – Talk about your four years at Dayton, it could have been three but it turns out to be four but how did that help you develop as a player?
RT – I went into Dayton as an 18 year-old man. I was small, you know, I didn’t have any muscle on me. Dayton made me into the end, the player I am today, you know, on the field, in the weight room, things like that. But you know, going to Dayton for four years I think builds you as a person you know with baseball as well. With a coach like Coach King and the staff that we had there and all the teammates that I had in those years, it makes you a better player on the field and a better teammate. But going to Dayton, you know, is something special for anybody. As a student, it’s a great place to go for four years, you know what I mean? You can get a great degree there and a lot of different things. And then, yeah, like I said, you know, becoming a man, growing four years on your own. I think that’s just part of it and Dayton is a great place for me.
CPB – When did you start playing baseball?
RT – I played T-ball. I played every year growing up since probably the time I was three or four years old. So yeah, every year since then.
CPB – Third base was your position or did you play short or all around?
RT – I was a short stop growing up, that was my spot. Every year I was playing short for whatever team I was on, I played a little outfield growing up too when I was 12-13 years-old and then in high school, I was shortstop/pitcher and then college came around. We had a shortstop who was a year older than me. So I moved over to third base and kind of just didn’t play third my freshman year at Dayton but I ended up getting in my sophomore year and after that, it’s been basically third base.
CPB – Talk about who’s helped you develop as a player. I know you mentioned a name or two earlier, but who has helped you develop as a player?
RT – I would say my hitting coach Tyler Mitchell. We’ve come a long way with my swing. Definitely my coaches at Dayton, Jayson King, Tommy Chase, who was there my first three years there really, really helped mold me as an infielder. And then, yeah, just going back man. the first baseball coach I ever had. I talk about him a lot. Andy Biskupski kind of took me in from playing I would say Little League coach/pitch, kind of not real baseball. He kind of transitioned to the team that I was on that year into basically real baseball. I guess you could say. But man, there’s so many people, you know. My dad, my parents driving me every weekend for years on end to tournaments out of town to every practice picking me up, dropping me off, you know. I don’t think it’s just three or four people, there’s tons of people, but yeah, those few coaches and then my parents absolutely.
CPB – So you played for Dunedin for your first full season. Was that like getting out your feet wet? You had a really good year hitting over 300. Talk about that season with Dunedin.
RT – Yeah, I just didn’t really know what to expect. You were coming into a new group of guys. I didn’t know anybody other than the guys that I went up with my draft class and I knew Zach Britton a little bit because he’s from Indiana. But other than that, I was unfamiliar with all the faces around me so it was just about building a relationship with the guys around you. You don’t want to come into a new place acting like you know everything. So it was just, you know, I’m a rookie. I just want to show up every day and work hard as hard as I can, play as hard as I can and you know, let the results take care of themselves.
CPB – What did you learn about pro ball in your first season? What lessons did you take away from it?
RT – There’s so many games and you can’t beat yourself up. It’s not like college where you play three in a weekend and you know, you remember every single at-bat for basically the whole year, you know what I mean? Now you’re playing everyday and you know, even if you have a bad week, it’s not as bad as a bad weekend in college, you know what I mean? So I think you just understanding that you do have more time and you know, this is definitely not a Sprint, it’s a marathon and it’s about getting better every day as opposed to, you know, just performing well in that day.
CPB – Baseball America did a draft report card and they listed you as the fastest runner in the class and best defensive player. How would you describe yourself as a player?
RT – You know, I would like to keep the speed that I have. I think hitting-wise, I would like to consider myself more of a contact hitter with a little bit of power. And as I get stronger and as I get a little bit older, I think there will be more power to come. But as a player, I just kind of want to be an all-around player. I don’t want to be the guy that, you know, he only hits home runs or he can only play defense. I try to work on my game and all the aspects of my game to to really try and make there not be a standout point, you know, just to be a complete player as I can.
CPB – You’ve been playing third base up until now. You’ve seen some time at first base. How’s that been, the transition to the other side of the field?
RT – Yeah, not bad. You have a different role over there. You know those guys, they expect you to make the plays that they throw over to first base. Right now, it’s just about getting comfortable with that and just being somebody that the other guys can trust over there.
CPB – I just wanted to ask about that opening weekend in Spokane. You had the big hit in extra innings to win the game. Things were not going well that first few innings, but you guys managed to rally. Talk about getting that big hit to win the first game of the year.
RT – You know, that was very fun. Like I said earlier, you know, not trying to do too much, just going out there especially in the cold nights. You can’t take a huge swing, you just got to shorten up and I eventually got one over the first baseman for the game-winner. So it was a great feeling, man, to get the season off in the right direction.
CPB – You get a home run out too long ago against Eugene. What’s like to hit one out here at Nab Bailey?
RT – Oh my gosh, the crowd is awesome. The crowd’s great and it’s the best home run crowd I’ve ever had in my life. So it’s awesome and the fans are great here.
CPB – Final question, your goals for 2022.
RT – Just to improve as a player every day, you know. I want to refine my offensive approach a little bit and make that a little bit better but moving forward, just working on all aspects of my game every single day.
- Walk-up Song – Began with “Desperado (Male Version)” by Rihanna, currently “Hold On, We’re Going Home” by Drake
- Major League Connection – Played for former Blue Jays reliever LaTroy Hawkins at the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational in Bryan, Texas in 2020
- College Teammate – Mariano Ricciardi, son of former Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi, taken in the 18th round of the 2021 MLB draft by Oakland
- Summer Ball – Battle Creek (Northwoods League – 2018), Yarmouth-Dennis and Harwich (Cape Cod League – 2019)
- Uniform Numbers – Wore number 2 at Marian High School and Dayton before wearing 26 with Dunedin in 2021
- Instagram – @riley.tirotta
- Twitter – @TirottaR
Thanks a million to Riley Tirotta for taking time out for this episode of C’s Chat and to Canadians play-by-play announcer Tyler Zickel for setting it up.