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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Joey Ortiz

Another member of the talent-rich 2019 draft nears his MLB debut.

Syndication: LasCruces Jaime Guzman for the Sun-News

How he arrived: Drafted by the Orioles, fourth round (108th overall) in 2019, contract selected 11/15/22

It’s possible that the Orioles’ 2019 draft ends up the most impactful in team history. The class has already produced a franchise cornerstone in first-round pick Adley Rutschman. There’s a good chance that second-rounder Gunnar Henderson ascends to a similar level in 2023. Not to mention, competitive balance pick Kyle Stowers has made his big league debut, and should compete for an everyday role in the spring. The expected promotion of Joey Ortiz would be the cherry on top.

Ortiz, a New Mexico State product, entered professional baseball with a reputation as a glove-first prospect that could simply hold his own at the plate. But he is starting to buck that idea by showing off an improved bat at each level he plays.

In his first taste of professional baseball, Ortiz posted a .612 OPS over 56 games with Low-A Delmarva back in 2019. That was followed by the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season, and then a 2021 campaign marred by injury. Ortiz had been off to a hot start in ‘21 with a .265/.353/.449 batting line across two levels before a torn labrum in June ended his season. It was a huge blow for a prospect that seemed to be rounding into form.

But Ortiz answered any questions there might have been with an impressive 2022 season from top to bottom. He showed off his glove in spring training, and then returned to Double-A Bowie to begin the season. There he picked up right where he left off with a .792 OPS and 15 home runs over 111.

That performance prompted a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk for the final month of the season. Ortiz was terrific. In 26 games with the Tides he had 36 hits, seven doubles, two triples, and four home runs. His .967 OPS was the best at any level to that point in his career. Small sample size caveats apply here, of course, but it is encouraging nonetheless.

All of this production plus the Orioles’ lack of middle infield options in the big leagues made Ortiz an easy addition to the 40-man last month when the decision on whether or not to protect him from the Rule 5 draft was made.

The 24-year-old has seen his reputation around scouting circles improve as well.

FanGraphs has been the most aggressive, naming Ortiz the 81st-best prospect in all of baseball and seventh in the Orioles’ system. They also bumped his future value up from 45 to 50, a tier that includes Colton Cowser and Coby Mayo.

From their writeup:

Ortiz is a plus defender anywhere in the dirt who makes up for a lack of twitch with outstanding instincts, strong fundamentals and a plus arm...The Orioles have given him plenty of time at second and third base as a pro, which is further indication that they agree with the external projections of Ortiz as a solid utility player.

MLB Pipeline is yet to update their public rankings since midseason, but Jim Callis did answer an Ortiz question a few weeks ago. He was extremely complimentary:

Ortiz is the best defensive infielder in the [Orioles] system...he has gone from a contact hitter with questionable thump to a possible 20-homer threat. If he can maintain the offensive strides he made in 2022, he could be the Orioles’ shortstop of the future.

That is not an out-and-out endorsement of Ortiz as the O’s shortstop of 2024 and beyond over the likes of Henderson and Jackson Holliday. But the fact that he is even in that discussion is a reflection of the strides he made in 2022.

In the short term, Ortiz will be hoping to earn a spot on the Orioles’ Opening Day roster in 2023. His best chance to do so would seem to come at second base, where the team’s plans are unclear. It’s one of the spring training storylines worth following.

Rougned Odor brought immaculate vibes to the position in 2022, but his stats stunk. To this point, the O’s have not signed a replacement, but there are plenty of internal options. Henderson played there a bit last season, although his future likely sits on the left side of the infield. Both Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías have experience at second, but have shown to be better suited at playing elsewhere on the diamond, and each of them earned awards for their glovework.

The situation will evolve, and it may take until sometime next season for things to solidify. Ortiz is likely to return to Triple-A to begin 2023 and build on his 26 games at the level. That will also give the big league squad time to answer questions as well. Can Mateo and Urías replicate their defensive performance from 2021? Can Mateo provide any value at the plate?

Orioles’ GM Mike Elias has reiterated his hopes this offseason that the team will compete for a playoff spot in 2023, although the moves he has made to make that more possible are—to be kind—highly questionable. However, if there is any truth to it, then it’s easy to envision a scenario where a light-hitting Mateo is pushed to a utility role in favor of an Ortiz promotion sometime in June. Of course, that hinges on Ortiz also performing at a high enough level to push for such a move. If his recent performance is any indication, that feels like almost a certainty.

Up next: Grayson Rodriguez