It’s not often you see a pitcher who played the entire 2021 season in Single-A reach the big leagues the following year, especially in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
It’s even rarer when a starting pitcher, rather than a bullpen arm, ascends through the ranks to accomplish this feat. Age can play a factor as well as the round they were selected.
None of the above applies to Luis Ortiz.
A 23-year-old right-hander from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, Ortiz has opened eyes in Pittsburgh following his first three Major League starts. In 15.1 innings, Ortiz owns a 1.17 ERA, a .093 batting average against, 0.78 WHIP, and has struck out 17 with 7 free passes.
He might never go back.
Ortiz signed with the Pirates on Oct. 2, 2018, and played in Rookie Ball the following year. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the 2020 Minor League season, putting Ortiz and his fellow Minor Leaguers behind the eight ball.
Ortiz ended 2021 where he started it, making 19 starts in 22 appearances for the Single-A Bradenton Marauders. He pitched to the tune of a 3.09 ERA, .241 opposing batting average, 1.26 WHIP, and finished 5-3 in 87.1 total innings.
Ortiz relied on his plus fastball high-nineties fastball that can reach triple digits to strike hitters out, sitting down 113 batters compared to 28 walks.
The Pirates first showed their aggression with Ortiz by bypassing High-A Greensboro and assigning the 6-foot-2 hurler to Double-A Altoona.
General Manager Ben Cherington and his staff’s risk seems to have paid off despite an up-and-down season for the Curve. He struck out a high number of hitters (126) but reached an ERA of 4.64 in 23 starts totaling 114.1 frames, finishing strong with five runs allowed in his final 21 innings.
With the Altoona season coming to a close, Ortiz and a plethora of other Curve players including top prospects Quinn Priester and Endy Rodriguez received a chance to showcase their skills at the Triple-A level.
Ortiz allowed eight runs (four earned) in 10 innings over two starts for the Indianapolis Indians, striking out 12 and limiting batters to a .108 average.
Even though the Indians were still playing, Ortiz was recalled to face the Cincinnatti Reds on Sept. 13. He allowed no runs and only one hit in 5.1 innings.
His opportunity extended to one of the best lineups in baseball on the road, historic Yankee Stadium with Aaron Judge chasing the American League home run record. Judge finished 0-for-2 with a walk and two groundouts as Ortiz exited following five innings of one-run ball (two runs, one earned).
Ortiz depends on his power fastball - graded by MLB Pipeline as a 60 on the 20-80 scale - to speed up hitters and display a slider and occasional changeup.
The Pirates need pitchers like Ortiz who show flashes of potential to come out of the woodwork and make a difference with the ballclub. He’s throwing his fastball 58 percent of the time with batters hitting below .100 (0.88) on the pitch and .105 on his slider. The righty’s fastball velocity is in the 98th percentile in all of baseball, according to Baseball Savant, and his fastball spin is in the 84th percentile.
Ortiz’s emergence as an unlikely addition to the 2022 squad is indicative of the Bucs' willingness to be cautiously aggressive with their starting pitchers if it's even possible to find common ground and do both.
It’s only three starts and two against struggling teams, but those same two games against division opponents who have caused fits for Pirates regardless of their talent level.
Pittsburgh may have discovered a hidden gem the organization needed to pair with Priester and Roansy Contreras as a middle-of-the-rotation starter with back-end of the bullpen potential.
Time and additional innings will be the ultimate indicator of Ortiz’s potential and blowing the ball by hitters at 100 MPH is a good place to start.