David Ortiz’s Path From Prospect To The Hall of Fame

Image credit: David Ortiz (Getty Images)

When the Mariners signed David Arias out of the Dominican Republic in November 1992 shortly after his 17th birthday, the signing hardly made headlines. The Mariners signed Arias for just $3,500, a minuscule sum even back then. For comparison, the player who received the highest signing bonus in the 1992-93 international class, Blue Jays righthander Jose Pett, received a $675,000 bonus.

Initially, it appeared Arias was unheralded for a reason. He hit .246 with two home runs in his pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 1994 and repeated the league the following season. He performed much better the second time around, but he was a 19-year-old in Rookie ball and not considered much of a prospect.

That changed once he made his full-season debut at High-A Wisconsin in 1996. After a productive season that saw him hit for both average and power, the Twins acquired him as the player to be named later in a deadline trade for third baseman Dave Hollins.

Arias changed his last name to Ortiz following the trade, and the rest is history. He rocketed from High-A to the majors in 1997 and was the Twins starting first baseman by 1998. After injuries marred his career in Minnesota and contributed to his release after the 2002 season, he signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox and went on to redefine both his career and the Red Sox franchise.

Ortiz hit 483 home runs in 16 seasons in Boston and led the Red Sox to three World Series titles while establishing himself as one of the top postseason hitters in MLB history. His 541 career home runs rank 17th in MLB history, and he is also among baseball’s all-time leaders with 632 doubles (12th),  1,768 RBIs (23rd), a .552 slugging percentage (26th), 4,765 total bases (32nd) and a .931 OPS (38th). On Tuesday, he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with 77.9% of the vote. He was the only player elected on the 2022 ballot.

From a $3,500 international signee to a Hall of Famer, here is the path Ortiz carved in his earliest years. Even when he was a 21-year-old prospect in Double-A, he was earning comparisons to another Hall of Famer. 


Ortiz made his first appearance in Baseball America in the Oct. 14, 1996 issue when he ranked No. 6 on the Midwest League Top 10 Prospects. He hit .322/.390/.511 with 18 home runs and 93 RBIs for Low-A Wisconsin in his first full season and was traded to the Twins shortly after the season ended. He still went by the last name Arias at the time.

Top 10 Midwest League Prospects
By Curt Rallo

6. David Arias, 1b, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

Arias is similar to Larry Barnes. He’s big, strong and can drive the ball to all fields. He also has made strides with his play at first base.

“David has tremendous power,” Wisconsin manager Mike Goff said. “Once he starts getting better discipline, I can see him hitting 25-30 homers in the big leagues. He’s a possible 100-RBI man.”

The Twins certainly hope so. They traded third baseman Dave Hollins to Seattle for Arias in August.

 Arias changed his last name to Ortiz and broke out in 1997 in his first season in the Twins system. He hit .317/.372/.568 with 31 home runs and 124 RBIs while rising three levels from High-A Fort Myers to Triple-A Salt Lake and was called up for his major league debut in September.

Correspondent Scott Miller highlighted Ortiz in a Twins organization report early in the season.

New Name, Same Bat
By Scott Miller

MINNEAPOLIS—He’s changed organizations. He’s changed his name. As long as his swing remains the same, though, the Twins will be happy.

David Ortiz, formerly known as David Arias, finished his first month at Class A Fort Myers to rave reviews. He hit for average. He hit for power. And his defense at first base was little better than the Twins expected.

Acquired from the Mariners in August for third baseman Dave Hollins, Ortiz, 21, has been just about everything the Twins hoped. 

Of course, it may be the Florida State League pitchers simply haven’t figured out who he is yet.

He arrived from Seattle last year as David Arias, and reported to big league camp this spring as David Arias. After being sent to minor league camp, though, he requested to be know as David Ortiz, going by  his mother’s last name.

Ortiz, a lefthanded hitter from the Dominican Republic whom Seattle signed as a free agent in November 1992, was hitting .347-7-29 for the Miracle. Three of the home runs were to left field.

“He’s doing a good job,” Fort Myers manager John Russell said. “He has power to all fields. He can hit the ball the other way.”

The Fort Myers staff is working with Ortiz on the things most power hitters need to be reminded of.

“Like any power, you try to keep him selective at the plate and get him to use the whole field,” Russell said. “We’re trying to concentrate on what he wants out of each at-bat.”

The way things are going, it appears as if Ortiz has figured it out pretty well. Under any name.

After the 1997 season, Ortiz ranked as a Top 10 Prospect in both the Florida State League (No. 4) and Eastern League (No. 6). It was in his Eastern League report that he received his first comparisons to a Hall of Famer—Willie McCovey.

1997 Florida State League Top 10 Prospects

4. David Ortiz, 1B
Fort Myers Miracle (Twins)

Ortiz went all the way to a September callup for the Twins this season, starting in Fort Myers with stopovers in the Double-A Eastern and Triple-A Pacific Coast leagues.

“Obviously, he has good hands the way he swings the bat,” Lakeland manager Mark Meleski said. “He has some work to do defensively, but he’s a very good hitter.”

With 31 homers and 124 RBIs this year in the minors, Ortiz’s power is not a problem.

“He’s got power coming out of his ears,” Port Charlotte manager Butch Wynegar said. “He’s aggressive, drives the ball real well. I’d get my guys out to watch him take BP. He reminds me of Mo Vaughn.”

1997 Eastern League Top 10 Prospects
By Andrew Linker

6. David Ortiz, 1b

Size and power always bring comparisons. Ortiz, acquired from the Mariners and formerly known as David Arias, has both size and power, and now he’s starting to draw the comparisons. 

Willie McCovey, Dave Parker and a pre-injury Cliff Floyd. Not bad company.

“He fits in that category,” Sweet said. “He shows tremendous power. He doesn’t swing at a lot of bad pitches. He needs to work on his defense, but as an offensive player, he’s one of the best in the league.” 




With comparisons to McCovey, Parker, Vaughn and Floyd, it was clear all-star expectations had been set for Ortiz entering the 1998 season, if not more. He ranked as the Twins No. 2 prospect in the Feb. 16, 1998 issue of Baseball America and was No. 84 on the BA Top 100 Prospects.  

1998 Minnesota Twins Top 10 Prospects
By Tracy Ringolsby

2. David Ortiz, 1b.

Background: Signed by the Mariners when he went by the last name Arias, Ortiz was acquired by the Twins in September 1996 to complete a deal for Dave Hollins. He was Minnesota’s minor league player of the year after starting the year in Class A and finishing it in the big leagues.

Strengths: Ortiz is a lefthanded power hitter who should flourish in the Metrodome. He has driven in 223 runs in the last two minor league seasons.

Weaknesses: Ortiz will catch what he gets to, but to avoid being typecast as a DH he needs to work on his movement around the bag. At the plate, he could also be more selective.

The Future: The Twins’ signing of veteran Orlando Merced should remove the temptation to push Ortiz too fast. He can now be allowed to open the 1998 season at Triple-A Salt Lake.

Instead of opening the 1998 season back at Salt Lake, Ortiz made the Twins out of spring training and quickly took over as their starting first baseman. He got off to a red-hot start that Miller highlighted in the May 25, 1998 issue of Baseball America.

Ortiz Finds Acceptance
By Scott Miller

MINNEAPOLIS—David Ortiz may have thought he joined the club when he made the Twins coming out of spring training, but he really didn’t until the third weekend.

That’s when the Mariners’ Ken Griffey was razzing him around the batting cage. For all intents and purposes you’re not a member of the club until Griffey and the game’s other superstars start picking on you.

“My brother (Craig) played with him (in Seattle’s farm system) and he told me Ortiz is one of the ugliest guys he’s ever seen,” Griffey said, eyes sparkling and a wide smile crossing his face.

Asked if he replied to Griffey when the 1997 American League MVP got on him that weekend, Ortiz just smiled.

Asked if he really is that ugly, Ortiz just smiled again.

And why not? Don’t look now, but the Twins have another candidate for American League rookie of the year in their lineup.

Through the season’s first month, Ortiz, 22, was leading all American League rookies in batting average (.344), RBIs (15), runs (12), total bases (37), doubles (seven), on-base percentage (.403), slugging percentage (.607) and extra-base hits (10). He also was tied for the league lead among rookies in home runs (three).

The Twins are as surprised as anybody. Not that they weren’t expecting Ortiz, signed as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic and acquired from the Mariners for Dave Hollins, to flourish. They were. But considering he was in Class A one year ago, they certainly didn’t expect it so quickly.

“I think he’s a pretty intelligent guy,” manager Tom Kelly said. “He has improved immensely. Not knowing him that well, it’s hard to figure out how quickly he would progress. But on defensive things, he’s picked up really well on that.”

Ortiz ended up going on the 60-day disabled list with a fractured right wrist in May and played only 86 games that season, preventing him from ultimately contending for the Rookie of the Year award. It was the start of a series of injuries that would prevent him from living up to his prospect promise in Minnesota.

The Twins sent Ortiz back to Triple-A for most of the 1999 season and he tried to play through a torn ACL when they called him back up in September. After serving as their primary DH in 2000, he suffered another wrist fracture that limited him to 89 games in 2001. He had surgery in 2002 to remove bone chips from his knee and missed a month, putting a damper on an otherwise productive season.

Despite reaching the ALCS in 2002, the Twins operated with one of baseball’s smallest payrolls and decided to release Ortiz after the season rather than pay him in arbitration. The Red Sox signed him to a one-year, $1.25 million contract in January, the start of a relationship that set Ortiz on a Hall of Fame path.

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