SL notes: Ridling shows he belongs

Smokies slugger drawing attention in first taste of Double-A

Rebel Ridling is hitting .309 with 12 homers in 74 games. (Adam Kline/Tennessee Smokies)

By Guy Curtright / Special to | July 5, 2011 5:07 AM ET

Rebel Ridling has the perfect name for the Southern League. His hitting hasn't been too bad, either.

The Tennessee slugger was a starter in the All-Star Game and carried a .309 average with 12 homers and 48 RBIs through 74 games. That will draw attention whether you have an unusual name or not.

"Some people give me a hard time about my name, and others like it," Ridling said. "It's always been like that wherever I've played. I'm used to it."

Rebel is his given first name, not a nickname.

"All the guys [on my father's side] have 'R' names for the 'R.R.' initials," said Ridling, whose dad's name is Rusty.

Ridling, who turned 25 on May 22, grew up in rural southwest Oklahoma outside of the tiny town of Sentinel, population 901. His high school, which had a graduating class of 23, was too small to have a football team, meaning he could play baseball in the fall as well as the spring.

The extra time paid off, with Ridling turning in three productive seasons at Oklahoma State after a year in junior college. As a senior, he batted .321 and hit 18 homers -- one less than Big 12 leader Kyle Russell of Texas.

But while Russell -- a fellow Southern League All-Star with Chattanooga -- was an early Draft choice, Ridling wasn't taken until the 25th round by the Chicago Cubs in 2008.

Once in the Minors, though, Ridling showed he wasn't someone to be ignored. He hit .336 in 19 games for Boise in the Northwest League, earning a quick promotion to Class A Peoria. Back with the Chiefs in 2009, he batted .310 with 97 RBIs and 51 extra-base hits.

An appendectomy set Ridling back early last season, and he slumped the final three weeks with Daytona, eating into his Florida State League statistics.

"I was hitting .295 with three weeks left, but then I got a little fatigued," Ridling said.

After a full season to again get into top shape, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound slugger got off to a quick start in Double-A this year.

Ridling, a right-handed hitter, batted .403 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 20 games during June as the Smokies set a blistering early pace at the plate en route to the first-half North Division championship.

"It was big to get off to a good start, to show that I belonged," Ridling said.

Ridling was 0-for-14 in his first four contests after the All-Star Game, but went 14-for-27 with six extra-base hits in the next seven games. Included was an outing with two homers and five RBIs.

He has been lethal against left-handed pitchers, accumulating seven homers and 20 RBIs in 92 at-bats.

In the field, Ridling has shown his versatility by starting almost as many games in left field as his normal first base. "I'm more comfortable at first, but I'm fine with the outfield," he said.

Playing more than one position obviously enhances your chances of reaching the Major Leagues.

DJ LeMahieu, who had played multiple positions, jumped from the Smokies to the Cubs a month ago, although he is in Triple-A now.

"You're just one phone call away," Ridling said. "You have that in the back of your mind. But you can't really think about it. You have to concentrate on getting the job done here."

In brief

Look out for Lookouts: Chattanooga has been the hottest team in the Southern League, finishing the first half with a 13-4 record to get to .500 and then taking over first place in the North Division by starting the second half at 8-3 with a seven game-winning streak. In contrast, Jackson was mired a 6-16 slump dating back to the first half after dropping a series to Chattanooga. It was the Generals' fourth straight series loss.

Moving up the ladder: Jackson's Jarrett Grube, who started the All-Star Game for the North, and Carolina's Brad Boxberger, who finished up the victory, didn't stay in the league long afterward. Seattle promoted Grube to Tacoma, while Cincinnati moved Boxberger up to Louisville. Also promoted to Triple-A last week was Montgomery third baseman Daniel Mayora, a starter for the South. Tampa Bay elevated him to Durham and gave the Biscuits Greg Sexton, who was leading the Florida State League in RBIs.

Heading to Arizona: Arizona fans will get to see the Diamondbacks' top power-hitting prospect when the All-Star Futures Game is held at Chase Field next Sunday. Mobile slugger Paul Goldschmidt, who leads the Minors with 25 homers, is one of six Southern League players in the showcase. He's on the United States team with left-hander Matt Moore and shortstop Tim Beckham of Montgomery (Beckham is expected to be named as a replacement for Pittsburgh's Chase d'Arnaud, who is now with the Pirates). Chattanooga outfielder Alfredo Silverio and pitchers Jhan Martinez of Jacksonville and Arodys Vizcaino of Mississippi are on the World team.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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