Joey Ortiz entered Baltimore’s system back in 2019 with a lauded reputation at shortstop. Ortiz fit the mold as a talented college prospect that played up the middle and could immediately add depth to a thin farm system. Few doubted his defensive abilities, but the bat was never guaranteed to materialize.
Baltimore selected Ortiz in the fourth round after nabbing three guys everyone has heard of by now. Ortiz joined a heralded class of Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Kyle Stowers. The Birds drafted Zach Watson one round before Ortiz, but Ortiz appears poised to be the next pick to make the show.
The defense has lived up to its reputation, but Ortiz catapulted into the 2023 infield conversation thanks to a big second half at the plate. The New Mexico State product slashed .269/.337/.455 in 111 games at Bowie, but he spent the summer making up for a slow start.
Ortiz batted .206 in his first 64 games before flipping the switch. The 24-year-old exploded with a .405/.438/.674 line and five homers in the month of July. Ortiz followed with a .324/.420/.598 in August that proved something had changed at the plate.
The Birds bumped Ortiz up to Triple-A on August 30 and he continued to mash. The righty slashed .333/.393/.563 despite facing a higher level of competition. Ortiz had heard the questions about his bat and decided to answer each and every one of them.
Henderson and Jordan Westburg have dominated the infield in any mock lineup for TNGOT (the next good Orioles team), and the duo did nothing to relinquish their spots this year. Henderson delivered one of the greatest minor league seasons in recent memory, and Westburg was named Baltimore’s Minor League Player of the Year. It’s absurd to think any prospect could make up ground in a season like that, but Ortiz has forced his way into the conversation.
The Orioles will need to add Ortiz to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but he should still begin next season with the Tides. Ortiz appeared in only 26 games at Triple-A before the end of the season, and Mike Elias will require him to prove that he can build on his strong performance at the dish.
Ortiz may not be a threat to break camp with the team, but he could force the issue. He played a large majority of his games at short, so it will be interesting to see if the Birds play him more at second or third next season. The Orioles have already proved that they will let infield prospects learn new positions on the fly at the big league level.
Jorge Mateo appears to be Baltimore’s starting shortstop for 2023. That leaves Henderson at third base with Ramón Urías and Westburg battling it out at second. Of course, everything changes if the Orioles want Henderson to play at short on a daily basis (or if they sign Carlos Correa for all of you people out there).
Ortiz could emerge as a trade chip if the Orioles are willing to part with some infield depth. The club may look to sell high on Ortiz if they still doubt his bat, but it would be difficult to part with him at this stage.
Baltimore has several impressive infield prospects with Ortiz, Westburg, Darell Hernaiz, Connor Norby, and top pick Jackson Holliday, but there is no need to rush the process. Mateo still has more to prove next year, and Westburg has yet to take a single at bat for the O’s.
Ortiz currently ranks as Baltimore’s 17th best prospect on the MLB.com and 23rd on FanGraphs, but he is trending in the right direction. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen recently said that Ortiz will make the jump into the Top 100 prospects after his strong season. Longenhagen even speculated that Ortiz could jump Westburg based on a heightened defensive emphasis with the shift on its way out next year.
Ortiz taking a step forward at the plate ranks as one of the best minor league surprises from 2022. There is suddenly a real chance the Ortiz could be the shortstop of the not-so-distant future with Holliday at least two seasons away.
Previously: Fallen prospect roundup, Jean Pinto, Darell Hernaiz, Drew Rom, international prospect roundup, César Prieto, Mike Baumann, Hudson Haskin, John Rhodes and Reed Trimble, Cade Povich and Chayce McDermott
Tuesday: Terrin Vavra