Updated: Dec 16, 2018
Prospect #23: Catcher Dennis Ortega
Previously Unranked in preseason and ranked 25th at July reranking
Signed as an International Free Agent in 2012
THE QUICK WRITE UP
It's a damn shame that Ortega hurt his hamstring because his 2018 season was really starting to gain steam. It's a good thing that he seems to have picked up where he left off before going on the DL. The big question with Ortega has always been how his bat was going to develop, or if it was ever actually going to develop. Well, Ortega got off to a cold start on the season. However, about a month into the season Ortega started to make consistent hard contact and that's helped him put up a season long slash line before the hamstring injury of 284/344/390/734 in 144 at-bats. That stat line isn't the most impressive that you'll find in the system, but if Ortega can continue to hit like that as he moves up the organization then he'll be a major leaguer. His defense is that good. He has an arm that has the Midwest League on alert. He leads that league in runners gunned out. He calls a good game behind the plate, too. While he isn't the best at blocking balls in the dirt, he's better than most at that level and he's made progress. Ortega is also a good pitch framer and he usually doesn't stab at the ball, although it does happen.
Ortega is a fun backstop to watch when he is healthy. He has a bit of a long swing but not too long that you'd worry about it. After two weeks on the Midwest League DL, Ortega has gone 5-13 with a double and two strike outs entering play on Thursday night. If he continues to progress behind the plate, while continuing to show gains in the batters box, he'd be right in line to replace Yadier Molina as the Cardinals backstop when Yadi's contract is up.
WHY TO GET EXCITED
Ortega's defense has always been advanced, but it's really leveled out. What I mean by that is, the kinks behind the plate are all-but gone.
His stand out tool behind the plate is his arm. It's "plus". The Midwest League is afraid of it and he put on a show in the MWL All-Star game with it.
Ortega has gotten into better shape and it shows/is obvious.
Ortega is "only" 6'2", but he seems way bigger than that. He is strong is stature.
On the backfields during Spring Training, Ortega was never far from the coaching staff and he was always leading drills. He's a leader.
Ortega is always having fun. That was evident on the backfields, as well. That doesn't go away during games.
After a rough turn at the plate during the 2017 seasons, Ortega has finally reclaimed some of the solid ground as a hitter that he showed in 2016.
This is because Ortega has changed his approach at the plate. Where he went pull-happy in 2016, he has moved back to an "all-fields" approach.
With a strike out rate around 16% and a walk rate above 8%, those baselines will be the foundation for which all of his success is built on from here.
Ortega is a good pitch framer and came caller, by all reports.
Ortega's batting stance is reminiscent of Jose Martinez' and he plays with that same kind of energy/attitude.
WHY TO BE CAUTIOUS
First, I AM TERRIBLE AT EVALUATING CATCHERS. I'm left-handed. I'm super dumb. It makes it tough for me to get a feel what a catcher does and doesn't do properly. It's a blind spot for me. I'm more reliant on the eyes and ears of others.
I'm not overly worried about it, but a hamstring injury is nothing to play around with if you are a catcher. He's back in the Peoria lineup now, but he's being brought along carefully. Again, not a big worry.
Entering this season, Ortega had never shown power. He's added a little this season, but power will never be his profile.
While Ortega is showing better signs of life at the plate, he's doing it while hitting a lot of grounders. He'd do well for himself to get the ball in air a little more.
Catchers develop slower than any other position on the diamond. They take patience. More can wrong in the development of a catcher than any other position. Any catching prospect is a reason for caution.
This is big time speculation and a player that makes me uncomfortable to compare. Their body-types are different, but Fransisco Pena is a realistic type comparison for Ortega. If we are going ultimate 5% chance ceiling, then we are talking about Tucker Barnhart if everything goes exactly correct. If we are talking about a realistic ultimate ceiling then we are talking about the "legend" Ronny Paulino.
As always, I caution that most prospects have a 20% chance at best of every reaching their ceiling.
Fangraphs is a place where stats are dreams and OPS angels grow wings every time a bat cracks. These articles can't be completed without the site.
Thanks For Reading!