LUBBOCK, Texas – Like a young Mick Jagger, Roc Riggio strutted and preened halfway between second base and third, raising his hands and hopping along on his tiptoes as if he were running through hot coals, or trying to maintain his balance on a high wire. Like Jagger, Riggio is a natural showman who looks born for the big stage — and that home run trot against Arkansas last year came on the biggest stage of Riggio’s baseball career to date, his first taste of Division I postseason action in the wild Stillwater Regional.
Riggio did his talking with his bat as well as his swagger. When it mattered most, in the postseason, Riggio was a force of nature that entire week, finishing the regional 15-for-27 with five doubles, four home runs and 15 RBIs in five games. For Oklahoma State’s 5-foot-9, 180-pound dynamo, that performance was truly a coming-out party on the national stage.
“He has an internal will to convince himself he can do something that physically, you look at him and say you shouldn’t be able to do, but he decides he’s going to do it. And sometimes he has to recruit emotion and energy and feed off of things to do it,” Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday said. “I saw it firsthand in our regional last year in Stillwater for four or five days. I saw a kid that drew energy from everything, from the other team’s fan base to the opponent, to the moment and all areas in between. And I think he’s just learning how to try to be a consistent performer without being so reliant upon that. But he’s a unique player and I’m just really glad he’s ours.”
A day after the official SportsCenter Twitter account posted the clip of Riggio’s home run prance with the caption, “Roc Riggio was feeling himself on his lap around the bases,” Riggio homered again — and this time he sprinted all the way around the bases and straight into the dugout at full speed. It was brilliant showmanship, even if it continued to infuriate the Arkansas fans on Twitter who decided Riggio was too flamboyant for their taste.
“It doesn’t bother me at all. I know that fans are fanatics. They’re not the ones playing the game, they have no idea what it’s like to be a ballplayer,” Riggio told D1Baseball of the interplay with fans who don’t like his style. “So we like it. We enjoy it. It fuels me, because I love this game, I love when the eyes are on me, I love when people hate me. On the field, I like being hated, that’s fine. Off the field, I respect everyone, I love everyone around me.”
Because Riggio is such a lightning rod, many casual college baseball fans might not know much more about him than that. His personality is so outsized that it can overshadow just how darn good he is at playing baseball.
A blue-chip recruit out of high school in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Riggio drew plenty of pro interest as a dynamic undersized hit machine in the mold of Nick Madrigal, Robert Moore or Dustin Pedroia. But he was determined to honor his commitment to Oklahoma State, where he was slowed a bit during his first fall by a left shoulder injury. Coming off that injury, it took him a little time to really find his stride as a freshman last year, but his torrid postseason performance gave him a very strong final line of .295/.413/.519 with 11 homers, 14 doubles and 47 RBIs, earning him first-team Freshman All-America honors. Riggio has more raw power than Madrigal and Moore, with an extremely strong lower half that he utilizes very well. But his hands are truly special as well, and they play a major role in his eye-opening power (which he showed off Saturday in Lubbock with a big three-run homer to center field to help lead OSU to its lone victory in a series at Texas Tech).
“His bat speed readings are elite, some of the highest ones you’ll see,” Holliday said. “So that’s a bat speed-driven swing, tremendous timing, and a very natural bat path that creates good loft.”
Riggio has continued to elevate his game as a sophomore, hitting .311/.480/.635 with five homers, seven doubles and 16 RBIs through 21 games. He has significantly improved his plate discipline, drawing 20 walks against 21 strikeouts so far after posting a 34-58 K-BB mark last year.
Oklahoma State’s Roc Riggio dons the Cowboy hat after homering in 2022
“It’s more controlled. I came in here as a free swinger,” Riggio said. “I didn’t have a solidified approach, and now having guys like [assistant coaches] Matt Holliday, Robin Ventura, Jordy Mercer, Rob Walton, our whole coaching staff, they’ve all haven’t changed my swing, they’ve just implemented a different approach in my mindset and I’m more of a controlled aggressive approach, and so when I’m not hitting the ball that good, I know what I’m doing wrong. And then when I get back into that mindset of where I have a good approach, I feel very confident to play.”
Josh Holliday said Riggio is “a rhythm player” who has really found his rhythm over the last 10 games or so. His improved patience at the plate has made him a great fit as the catalyst atop the order after usual leadoff man Zach Ehrhard went down with injury. Riggio’s energy is boundless and contagious; even on a routine ground ball to the first baseman, Riccio always runs his hardest down the line.
“He’s just a blood and guts, competitive, all-in, passionate kid. And he plays with a confidence and a little bit of a freedom that makes him who he is, and you never want to take that away from your players if they have it. But he’s also learning how to manage it and he’s doing a good job, and he’s playing great second base,” Holliday said. “And he’s stinging the ball, and he’s a fire-starter. With Ehrhard being out, who was the other component of the top of the order, those two guys did such a great job by the end of last year. Roc’s kind of had to carry the load as far as triggering the offense at the start for the other guys to finish it.”
Riggio has also become a very exciting defender at second base, a position he is still learning. He said he was a catcher his whole life growing up, and he played some corner outfield as well as catcher in high school, only seeing action on the infield dirt for half of his senior season.
“Last year was my first full year playing infield, and I’ve improved a lot,” Riggio said. “I’ve had a lot of guys helping me out. I have a lot of guys who have got my back, and I believe I’m one of the best infielders in college baseball. And despite a few hiccups here and there, a few bad hops, I think that our middle infield, our third baseman Aidan Meola, [shortstop] Marcus Brown, [utilityman] Brennan Holt — even the guys who aren’t playing are really good defenders. And so as long as we keep playing good defense we will be in a really good spot.”
This past weekend at Texas Tech, Riggio made multiple standout plays, showing excellent range on a diving play in the 43 hole then popping up and making a quick transfer and good throw to first for the out. He also showing great instincts at a key moment Saturday; with runners at first and second with no outs, Brown made a brilliant diving stop on a hot shot up the middle and flipped to Riggio for the force at second. Riggio faked a throw to first, then whirled around and fired a strike to third to throw out the lead runner, who had made too big a turn around third.
“I think he’s an incredibly under appreciated second baseman, his totals last year were remarkable. He played a high, high percentage second base,” Holliday said. “He’s had a couple of tough chances this year. There’s a couple of errors in there that were tough chances on balls that did awkward things, but he’s a ballplayer. That’s all there is to it, he turns the double play well, he leaves his feet awfully well. He’s alert and talkative and very much engaged on every pitch. He’s my kind of player.”
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