Joey Ortiz never wanted the defense-first label pinned to him. The pride that he took in his glove work was offset by the notion that his bat might be a liability. That teams would have to settle for a light-hitting shortstop in order to benefit from the runs saved.
A more common tradeoff many years ago.
Not one that Ortiz was comfortable hauling into the present.
The Orioles knew that they were getting a plus-defender in the fourth round of the 2019 draft out of New Mexico State. Ortiz knew that he could prove scouts outside the organization wrong who viewed him more as being a one-dimensional player, and he did it this summer.
Ortiz batted a combined .284/.349/.477 with 35 doubles, six triples, 19 home runs and 85 RBIs in 600 plate appearances. He really took off after his promotion to Triple-A Norfolk on Aug. 29, slashing .346/.400/.567 with seven doubles, two triples, four home runs and 14 RBIs in 26 games.
The perception of him took a major hit, and it served as quite the motivator.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t,” he said today in a video call with the local media.
“I get it, coming from the college I went to, it’s a more hitter-friendly park, and I get that tag. But I definitely wanted people to know coming into this year I’m not only glove-only. I want people to know I can hit and I can hit at a high level. It was nice for it to come together this season and I’m still working to improve my hitting every day, and I’m proud of where it’s at right now.”
Ortiz led the country in hits in 2019 with 106 and in runs scored with 85. He was second in triples with 10, third in batting average at .422 and RBIs with 84, fourth in doubles with 25 and in total bases with 175, and 19th in slugging percentage at .697. He batted .233/.313/.467 in 16 games with Double-A Bowie in 2021 and underwent labrum surgery, but the talk about the imbalance between his offense and defense already started. As if college didn't count.
“When I got drafted was the first time that I heard kind of, glove-only shortstop or glove-first, and it’s always something to fuel the fire, kind of a chip on the shoulder type of thing,” he said.
“Ever since I got drafted I wanted to make it a point that I could hit, and hit with the pros. I think I’ve done that.”
There were no growing pains in the International League. The higher caliber of competition didn’t bring him down, which he credits to the confidence he built at Bowie after a slow start.
“You start to get going and then balls start to fall in Double-A and then you move into Triple-A,” he said. “I always like to think the level changes but the game doesn’t change. It’s still the same game, it’s still baseball, so I just go out there and play the same way, and that’s what it was.”
The Orioles made the anticipated move Tuesday and put Ortiz on the 40-man roster to protect him in next month's Rule 5 draft, to be held Dec. 7 at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. Though primarily a shortstop, with 101 starts this season, he also appeared in 26 games at second base and started twice at third base with Bowie.
Ortiz will be prepared for anything when he reports to major league camp next spring. To win the shortstop job, to vie for the opening at second base, to flash his versatility and perhaps earn a roster spot based on it.
“Before the whole 40-man thing, as far as the offseason and that stuff goes, I’m always trying to compete and be ready for the shortstop job in the big leagues, or just anywhere, at any position, because I can play anywhere,” he said.
“I like to train and just think that, as soon as I go to camp, I’m going to be ready to earn myself a job.”
Ortiz’s experience at second base as a professional before this year consisted of 10 starts in 2021. The glut of shortstop prospects on the Bowie and Norfolk rosters this summer led the Orioles to devise a plan to move guys around without stunting their development.
“I feel very comfortable,” he said. “I think I can play any position on the infield as far as short, third and second. But playing second base was comfortable, I thought it was easy. I want to make sure that people know I can play any position and I’m not just limited to one spot.”
Ortiz isn’t searching for more motivation, but there’s plenty of it surrounding him in the system. He’s the No. 17 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, with lots of talent ahead of him, including Gunnar Henderson at No. 1.
First-overall draft pick Jackson Holliday is ranked No. 3, organizational Minor League Player of the Year Jordan Westburg is fifth, power-hitting third baseman Coby Mayo is seventh, Connor Norby is 11th, Max Wagner is 15th, and Darell Hernaiz is 16th. César Prieto is right behind Ortiz at 18.
And that’s just the infielders.
Ortiz didn’t get much of a chance to be Henderson’s teammate at Norfolk. Henderson was promoted to the majors on Aug. 31.
“You see guys that I played with – Gunnar, Adley (Rutschman), Kyle (Stowers), Terrin (Vavra) - you see those guys go up there and play well and compete at a high level,” Ortiz said, “and it definitely gives me some positivity to know that when I get my chance and my opportunity that I’ll be able to do the same thing.”
The offseason is devoted to more than savoring his inclusion on the 40-man roster. Ortiz said he wants to sharpen the tools that he has, working on everything to get better – defense, strength, hitting, speed.
He wants all of it to come into play.
“And I won’t just be a glove-first shortstop or limited to one thing,” he said. “I want to be able to do everything and be the best player that I can.”
But also understand and embrace the reputation he’s built on defense. It isn’t a curse.
It’s the first thing he mentioned when asked what makes him special and maybe sets him apart from some of the other infield prospects.
“I like to take pride that my defense is, I’d say, above average, especially at a position like shortstop,” he said.
“You want to be able to make every single play that comes to you, so I take pride in my defense. And my hitting is coming around, too, so I take pride in now being an all-around shortstop instead of just glove-only.”
Notes: The Orioles outrighted catcher Mark Kolozsvary to Triple-A Norfolk, reducing their 40-man roster to 38 players. Rutschman is the only catcher. There used to be six.
Major League Baseball awarded to 2024 All-Star Game to the Texas Rangers, who lasted hosted it in 1995 at The Ballpark in Arlington.
The 2024 event will be held on July 16 at Globe Life Field.
The 2023 All-Star Game will be played at T-Mobile Park in Seattle. The Orioles haven’t hosted it since 1993.