USA Baseball's National Team Identification Series brings in 32 teams of players from all around the country and serves as a first look at some of the players who will be on next year's 18-and-under and 17-and-under teams.
The player who stood out the most at the first day of the event was righthander Luis Ortiz from Sanger (Calif.) High. With his stuff, Ortiz would be one of the best high school players in the 2013 draft class, but he's only a rising junior.
Ortiz has a thick, workhorse frame at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. He has a balanced delivery with good shoulder tilt and stayed in-line to the plate well. He also incorporates the strength in his lower half and showed a quick, loose arm. Ortiz's fastball sat in the 91-93 mph range and he mixed in a sharp 80-82 mph slider.
Over three innings of work, Ortiz threw three no-hit innings with three walks and three strikeouts. He was getting squeezed a little bit and was always around the zone. Most of the balls in play were the result of weak contact, as Ortiz was not afraid to pitch inside and his fastball featured some late armside life.
"I just basically (try to) blow the fastball by everyone then see if I need to use my offspeed pitches," Ortiz said. "Today I just threw fastballs and sliders. I saw slow bats, so I used more fastballs."
But Ortiz has other pitches in his arsenal that he didn't feature in today's outing. He also throws a curveball, a circle changeup and a palmball. He said there's definitely a difference between the changeup and the palmball.
"It's different because the changeup just moves slower and the palmball moves kind of like a knuckleball," Ortiz said. "It floats."
Ortiz also shows some potential as a hitter, but he started focusing seriously on pitching about a year ago and it's clearly where his future lies.
"It was hard to do, to change real fast," Ortiz said. "Because if I wanted to be more of a pitcher, I had to focus on being more of a pitcher. So, I had to do the things a pitcher does, like working out in the weight room and not hitting."
Ortiz is currently working to get his weight down and his grades up. He recently dropped 20 pounds and is working to continue to trim more of his baby fat. He would like to get down to 210. He's also putting a stronger emphasis on his schoolwork, as he'd like to improve his grades and commit to a four-year school, not a junior college.
"I just started paying attention to nutrition and working out and running," Ortiz said. "Basically, after school at 3, I hit the weight room at 3:30. After that, I go out and run a mile and then I go home and hit the books. My main focus right now is to hit the books."
In the summer, Ortiz plays for the Central Cal Baseball Academy. The program was started in 1995 by Terance Frazier, after he spent four years playing pro ball, mostly in the Athletics' system. Frazier's academy is different than most summer teams—it's a non-profit organization. Some of the players on Frazier's nine teams (ranging in age from 9U to 18U) pay to play with the program, but there are scholarships available for players in need. Frazier said he has never turned a player away and relies on yearly fundraising efforts from a circle of friends and Fresno-area business leaders.
Parents from other players from the Central Cal Baseball Academy pitched in to help raise around $1,200 for Ortiz to travel to the NTIS because they wanted him to have the exposure.
"This is going to be my fourth year this year and if you're going to play for Central Cal Academy, you have to be committed," Ortiz said. "If you're committed, you'e going to get along with everybody. I started there throwing 84 and ever since we got our own facility and I started working out and I'm getting up there now."
Central Cal Baseball has produced 37 players who have gone on to professional baseball, most notably Cubs righthander Matt Garza who pitched with the program for three years in high school. Two picks from last year's draft also played for the Academy: catcher Jose Barraza from Sunnyside High in Fresno, who went in the seventh round to the White Sox and outfielder Isaiah Yates from Clovis (Calif.) East High, who went in the 17th round to the Mariners. Ortiz should be one of the next players to add to that number.
"This is what I like about best about him—he has a no-nonsense attitude," Frazier said. "Kids know not to mess around when they're in the box against Luis. He's the jokester on the team, he keeps things loose. But when he crosses the lines and the spotlight's on him, he's all business. He always tells me, 'Coach, I need to put food on the table. They're trying to take it away from me.' "