The Houston Astros are trying to work their way back to relevance and are in the midst of rebuilding both their major league roster and their minor league system. Sunday night’s season opener saw those same Astros play host to the Texas Rangers. Given where the state of the two franchise currently sit, most fans, if they were told that one player made their Major League debut in the game would likely guess that said player took the field for Houston in their 8-2 victory.
Ortiz made the Rangers Opening Day roster and then made his MLB debut (Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)
They’d also be completely wrong.
There was plenty of inexperience in the Astros lineup, to be sure, but they all saw at least some action in the bigs last season. When you think about it more, that makes perfect sense. After all GM Jeff Luhnow pulled the trigger on a whole host of trades in recent seasons to restock a rather downtrodden farm system and with so much veteran talent shipped elsewhere, plenty of prospects and other younger players have already taken the field for the Astros.
It was instead a relatively unknown, and small of stature Rangers lefty, that broke through to appear in a MLB game for the first time. The script for 5’7″ 22-year old Joe Ortiz was surely far from the one he had hoped for however.
Ortiz took the mound to start the bottom of the eighth inning. His Rangers were already down 7-2 at the time so there was little pressure on him to make anything happen. In his inning of work he threw 15 pitches, 12 of them strikes, to a total of five batters. He struck out Carlos Pena and Rick Ankiel to start and end his outing respectively, but surrendered a line drive triple to Justin Maxwell and a line drive single up the middle to Matt Dominguez that scored Maxwell. The other out he recorded, a ground ball to 2B, came off the bat of Jason Castro. Ortiz threw 7 sliders and 7 two-seam fastballs in his appearance with his two-seamer rating above average according to the pitch type linear weights data. His other pitch was a four-seam fastball that was actually clocked slower (92.2 mph) than his two-seam FB averaged (92.7 mph). The slider peaked at 86.2 mph and averaged 84.6 mph on the night.
As mentioned above, Ortiz is hardly a known commodity as a prospect. Twice the Rangers have left him unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft. After his 2012 season which included a 1.97 ERA and 23-3 SO-to-BB in 32.0 innings after being promoted to Triple-A for the first time, Texas shrewdly added him to their 40-man roster to protect him. Signed by the Rangers out of Venezuela back in August of 2006, he’s put together an impressive statistical season in the minors that includes a 2.28 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 4.48 SO/BB with 278 SO and 62 BB in 276.1 IP. Prior to this season Baseball America ranked him as the 30th best prospect in the system.
Ortiz has a lot of things going for him. His slider wasn’t at its best in his debut on Sunday but it rates as a plus pitch. His two-seam fastball has excellent movement and considering he can pump it into the zone with 92-93 mph velocity from the left side, there’s a lot to like from that pitch as well. He had his share of struggles against right-hander hitters after reaching the PCL (0.303/.333/.424) but he was tough on lefties (0.196/0.196/.446) and at the least he should be able to carve out a role as a left-handed specialist in the big leagues. The biggest drawback to what he offers is that he’s only 5’7″ and very few pitchers as short or shorter have managed to stick around for long in the majors. Of course, Kansas City’s Tim Collins is also just 5’7″ and he’s developed into a major cog in the Royals bullpen since making his debut in 2011.