Sometimes, a little change can make a big difference.
Through his first 51 games with Double-A Bowie last year, Orioles prospect Joey Ortiz was batting .204 with three home runs and a 21% strikeout rate.
His future outlook had dimmed. Drafted in the fourth round in 2019 out of New Mexico State, Ortiz was the talk of the Orioles’ alternate training site in 2020. He had gotten stronger and changed his swing to unlock more impact.
But some of that excitement had faded in the first half of 2022. As the season careened toward summer, Ortiz was about to turn 24 years old and had missed all but 35 games in 2021 to a shoulder injury that required surgery. To that point he had not adjusted to the speed of Double-A and risked being relegated to a utility profile as a light-hitting shortstop with a plus glove.
But that’s when Oritz made an alteration that changed the trajectory of his career.
Spurred by Orioles hitting coordinator Cody Asche and Bowie hitting coach Brandon Becker, he adjusted his hand position while batting. The change allowed Ortiz to cover more of the strike zone and be in position to drive the ball in the air more frequently, as reported by Orioles correspondent Jon Meoli.
The results were night and day.
Ortiz collected three hits in game two of a June 15 doubleheader. He had two hits in each of his next two games. In his final 86 games, he hit .328/.389/.555 with 16 homers and a 14% strikeout rate.
Ortiz spent the final 26 games of that sample with Triple-A Norfolk, ensconced in a Tides lineup that featured second baseman Connor Norby leading off, followed by third baseman Jordan Westburg. Ortiz often hit third. Center fielder Colton Cowser batted cleanup. This year, all four players are Top 100 Prospects.
Ortiz is the lowest ranked of the quartet, but he has a chance to overachieve based on his strong work ethic.
Ortiz’s complete batting line from 2022 tells an incomplete story. From July 1 to the end of the season, he led all full-season minor leaguers with 101 hits, 68 runs and 175 total bases. His 1.026 OPS ranked seventh in that time.
Ortiz’s offensive ascendance buttresses an overall profile that includes plus defense at shortstop and second base. Ortiz succeeded Gunnar Henderson as Norfolk shortstop and continued to hold down the position despite being teammates with Westburg, a natural shortstop and higher-profile prospect.
Whether he occupies shortstop or second base in the big leagues, Ortiz seems like a prospect perfectly suited to his time. As MLB enters its first season with shift restrictions, teams will place a premium on range and play-making ability up the middle, especially at second base. Ortiz is up for the task.
If Ortiz’s offensive gains carry over to 2023, it won’t be long before he becomes a key figure on Baltimore’s middle infield.