There may be fewer things in life that Mike Elias likes than a surprise prospect debut, especially if he can pull off that debut when the Orioles are on the road. He’s done it again on Thursday morning, as the Orioles announced with no fanfare that infield prospect Joey Ortiz has been recalled. As a corresponding move, Terrin Vavra was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.
Ortiz, 24, was the fourth round pick by the Orioles in the 2019 draft. He will become the fourth player to play for the O’s from that draft as soon as he gets into a game. More on that in a moment. Between the canceled minor league season in 2020 and a shoulder injury that robbed him of most of 2021, it’s been a slower journey towards MLB than for most college prospects.
Already with a strong defensive reputation, Ortiz broke out at the plate last season and has carried that over in his early 2023 action, batting .359/.389/.500 through 16 games with the Tides. He’s the #7 prospect in the system on our composite top 20 ranking, and if he can both hit as well as he’s done in the minors the last two years and field as well as evaluators like The Athletic’s Keith Law think, this is an exciting development.
An obvious question presents itself: How much is he actually going to play? This could be the kind of annoying limited opportunity debut that the team gave to, say, outfielder Kyle Stowers last year when Stowers was a “that guy didn’t get vaccinated” replacement on a trip to Toronto.
Ortiz’s natural position of shortstop is pretty well covered by Jorge Mateo right now. Third base has got the mix of Gold Glover Ramón Urías and the young, unquestionably talented but thus far struggling Gunnar Henderson. Second base has some Urías and some Adam Frazier. I’d happily give Frazier’s playing time to Ortiz but do not have much reason to believe, based on the last year or so of behavior by the Mike Elias/Brandon Hyde brain trust, that this is the plan.
Orioles beat writers like MASN’s Roch Kubatko are already noting that swapping Vavra with Ortiz could just be about the team facing three left-handed pitchers starting tonight. Vavra is a lefty. So are Frazier and Henderson. Ortiz is a righty. That creates some space for Ortiz to play for the next few games at least, though who knows if the Orioles plan to keep him up for good.
The next series after this one in Kansas City is against a Royals team that has no active lefties in its rotation. Following that is an Atlanta squad that has just one lefty starting pitcher. These are problems for the Orioles of the very near future. Vavra must stay in the minors for at least ten days after being optioned, unless he replaces an injured player, so hopefully the Orioles keep Ortiz for at least those ten days and give him a chance to show what he’s got to offer.