The Los Angeles Angels promoted rookie outfielder Rafael Ortega to the major leagues yesterday; he went 1-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base against the Twins. Ortega isn't exactly a household name and doesn't show up on tons of prospect lists but he has some interesting skills. Let's take a look.
Ortega was originally signed by the Colorado Rockies out of Venezuela back in 2007. He spent two years in the Dominican Summer League, then rang up some attractive numbers for Caspar in the Pioneer League in 2010 (.358/.416/.510). He followed up with solid seasons in Low-A and High-A, saw some brief big league action with the Rockies in 2012 (going 2-for-4 with a stolen base), but lost most of 2013 to injuries and handled Double-A pitching poorly (.228/.315/.297).
The Cardinals claimed him on waivers that winter. In 2014, I wrote the following report:
Rafael Ortega, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Bats: L Throws: R HT: 5-11 WT: 160 DOB: May 15, 1991
2011: Grade C+; 2012: Grade C+; 2013: Grade C+
The Cardinals claimed Rafael Ortega from the Rockies on waivers in January. He struggled through an injury-plagued season in 2013, but if you see him in person you understand why scouts like him: he runs very well, has a strong throwing arm, and has a pleasant swing that looks like it should produce batting average with some pop. He also does a decent job controlling the strike zone, but despite these advantages his actual production has never been that great. His best skills are on defense and he profiles well as a fourth outfielder. Grade C.
Ortega spent two years as a farmhand in the Cardinals system but never really stood out and couldn't separate himself from the pack. He hit just .246/.320/.340 in Double-A in 2014. He improved in Triple-A last year (.286/.367/.378), but seemed stalled out as a prospect. I didn't put him in the 2015 or 2016 books.
The Angels signed him as a minor league free agent a few months ago. This was an excellent move for Ortega, going from a strong farm system where he was lost in the shuffle to an organization starved for young players. It was also an astute depth move by the Angels.
Although he's been around for awhile, Ortega is still just 24 years old. The older reports are still valid, more or less: he's a line drive hitter with good speed, and a quality defensive outfielder who can run, throw, and handle all three positions.
The bat has always been the question. He had significant trouble adapting to pitching in the upper minors but he's made some adjustments and has been more effective over the last year. He is generally a spray hitter who slaps a lot of low line drives. Lack of distance power is the main issue but his command of the strike zone isn't bad.
Projection systems aren't impressed: Steamer sees him at .242/.302/.326, ZiPS at .234/.299/.312, PECOTA .238/.299/.311. He seems to be hitting the ball with a bit more authority these days but the sabermetric systems, strongly influenced by two years of weak Double-A numbers, don't buy in.
That's understandable but I think he could be a bit better than the projections predict; he could plausibly hit .260/.310/.360 or something along those lines in my view. It's not terrific or good enough to start long-term, but combine it with speed and defensive ability and you have a workable bench asset. At age 24, he could still get stronger and improve on that eventually.