The Other 15: Rafael Ortega

USA TODAY Sports

Editor's Note: The Other 15 is a multi-part series analyzing 15 players on the Cardinals 40 man roster who are long shots to head north with the team for opening day.

Age: 22

Position: CF

Acquired: Waivers from Rangers, 1/6/14; Claimed by Rangers from Rockies in November 2013

Bats: L

Throws: R

Player Profile & Career Summary

Ortega somehow wore out his welcome in a Rockies organization that apparently can't figure out who they want to play CF for them in the future. They swapped CF with the Astros shortly after letting this wiry defensive whiz leave for Texas on waivers. The Rangers put him on waivers again and John Mozeliak just couldn't help himself -- it's like he's got a betting ticket with 100-1 odds that he can collect all of the toolsy outfielders in the minor leagues prior to the end of 2014 (and then move them all to second base. Or something).

Tools? Ortega's got a few (my grades in parenthesis):

  • Excellent speed (70) and above average defensively in CF (55-65), average-ish arm (45)
  • Solid contact rate at lower levels for an average hit tool (45-55) and 22.7% of the balls in play in AA last year were line drives, which makes the .267 BABIP seem all that much more unlucky.
  • Below average power on the scouting scale (40-45), but considering he's only 5'11", 160 lbs, Ortega's got some pretty decent pop.
There are some things to like here, the defense especially, but there's also his ability to put the ball in play using line drives on down (only 34% fly balls for his MiLB career) which enables Ortega to utilize his speed to get on base. He also flashes good gap-to-gap power on occasion, like in this clip from back in 2012:



His swing and crouch in the batter's box certainly reminds me a lot of another wiry small fellow, who also went by the name Rafael:


Offensive Profile:

Ortega's ceiling is that of a solid leadoff man who can play good to great defense in CF. To reach that ceiling, however, he's going to need to make some improvements, starting with utilizing his fleet feet offensively. For all his speed, it simply doesn't seem to translate on the basepaths, with only 77 steals in 118 attempts in the minors, far below the 80% success rate that denotes valuable stolen base skills.

There are also a number of scouts who worry that Ortega falls in love with his power stroke at times, leading to streaks of fly outs and pop ups, and all the push-ups that come with them. Runs like Mays, hits like...well, you know.

Thing is, it's hard to understand why the Rockies quit on him so quickly (at least the Angels have a 10 WAR excuse for quitting on Randal Grichuck). He'll turn 23 in May and is coming off a year which suggests some pretty awful luck on balls in play that depressed his overall numbers considerably.

Defensive Profile:

Above average range in CF, takes good angles and is excellent going back on the ball. One scout added that "he has no fear of outfield walls", which is saying something, considering he's not spent much time above the leagues where that wall is generally a half rotten sheet of plywood with some ads painted on it. His arm is nothing special, but it's not a Juan Pierre-style noodle -- he's had a few assists pegging runners at second base, so opposing hitters can't take second at will on a ball near the gap.

2014 Outlook:

Ortega's going to start the year as the starting CF in Springfield. Any bets on whether that left-handed hitter's haven and away games in the Texas League (known for embellishing hitters of all stripes) help him break out offensively this year? I'd be surprised if they didn't -- although if Ortega falls in love with trying to deposit balls over the right field wall at Hammons Field, it could set him back considerably.

Value:

Hard to see much value in a player that's been given away for free twice in the last three months time. Proof that he can hit AA pitching would help get his stock up, however.

Prediction:

Starting CF in Springfield for all of 2014 to see what he's made of offensively.

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