The Dirty Thirty-Five: Prospect #25

Updated: May 2, 2019

THIS IS A COUNTDOWN!!!!! Over the next forty-something days starting on February 12th and ending on March 28th, I will be rolling out my Top 35 prospects in the Cardinals organization. We call it "The Dirty Thirty-Five" because it's marketable, I think. Also, we call it that because my write-ups and evaluations are a little different. I’m kind of quirky and goofy guy and the evaluations fit that personality. I've already written about the four players that graduated off the list. I've also written about the guys that just missed the list. You should check those out because you're going to have questions about my sanity afterwards. The article about the guys that didn’t make the D35 is really freaking good. This list is my own. It's terrible. I'm fine with it. Remember, have fun with these lists. Ranking prospects is a joke, but it's fun so treat all of the prospect ranking accordingly.

Dennis Ortega - Catcher

Signed as an International Free Agent in 2013

A+ Palm Beach

Age 21

STATS AS OF 5-1-2019


For years now, basically since Carson Kelly became a catcher, the plot involving prospects that's held up the longest among the Cardinals' fanbase has been "who is going to replace Yadier Molina when he retires?" Until this offseason, that conversation had taken two forms. First, it was the statement "It's going to be Carson Kelly." Then, that conversation turned into "Will it be Carson Kelly or Andrew Knizner?" Now the conversation is simply "Will the Cardinals' ever need another catcher and will Yadi play forever?"

Well, the jokes is on everyone because Yadi is going to play 130 games per year until he's 90.

Hyperbole aside, earlier in the offseason, Mr. Molina stated that he'd be interested in an extension with the Cardinals beyond the two years that he is locked up for. If Yadi does, indeed, sign an extension, then the question becomes "which catcher in the organization appears most likely to fit in with a timeline of 3-4 years in regards to replacing Yadi?"

The answer to that question is "Dennis Ortega, probably." (Of course, it's more complicated than this and the #4 and #23 prospect on this list will probably have a substantial say in this argument/question, as well. Especially #4, because of all that he is capable of doing.)

But that's foreshadow a book that's years away from being written. I'm basically George R.R Martin talking about one of those "Song of Ice and Fire" books. I, too, will probably be dead before I ever write about the guy who is actually going to replace Mr. Molina and I'm willing to bet the house that I die before Yadi retires. We will all be dead, I'm betting.

Before we write the story of Yadi's successor, let's do the background on Ortega. At 21 years of age, Ortega has already made some positive changes to his approach at the plate with an emphasis on getting the ball in the air. Entering the 2018 season, Ortega had yet to hit a home run while only hitting 18 doubles in 542 minor league at-bats. He did this while playing four seasons at the lowest levels of the minor leagues. So, to see him hit six home runs and 13 doubles in 243 at-bats shows both physical and hitting approach maturity. Personally, I really like Ortega's swing. There isn't too much going on and he isn't afraid to go with the ball (with a little authority, I might add) to the oppo-gap:

Speaking of physical-maturity, Ortega is physically mature (No, I do not get paid to do these). Listed at 6'2", 180 lbs, Ortega is every bit of 200+ pounds. I'm willing to bet that he's closer to 220 than it is 200. It might not make sense, but he also stands taller than his listed 6'2" frame.

I've said it in nearly every write-up that I've done when mentioning him; he has a presence about him on the diamond that was extremely evident when watching him on the backfields during spring training. He has a "presence" in-game at the minor league level, but I think that it's telling that he has the same presence when he's sharing a field with major leaguers, even if it's only on the back fields during spring training. It's a small thing that gets fan jazzed-up more than it should, but it's a "thing" nonetheless.

Next, I would like to spend a little bit of time fleshing out Ortega's statistical output during the season. 270 plate appearances isn't a lot, and I wanted to point out that Ortega had a bit of a "time-share" with fellow promising catching prospect Julio Rodriguez at Peoria. I like Rodriguez a lot, too, and he's a more consistent defensive catcher than Ortega is but with quieter tools and less upside. Anyway, Ortega's season at the plate can be divided into almost two perfect halves that were separated by injury.

From the start of the season until June 27 when he got injured, he hit 284/344/390 with three home runs, six doubles, with a walk rate of 8.9% and a strike out rate of 15.3% while posting a wRC+ of 110.

He returned from the injury on July 15th and proceeded to hit 221/270/375 with seven doubles and three home runs to end the season. During this time, both of his rates went in the wrong direction. His walk rate fell to 6.2% and his strikeout rate went up to 23.9%. He did this while posting a wRC+ of 82. Hopefully, the injury isn't something that will linger.

Where Ortega will make his money is his defensive abilities. There are times that Ortega looks like a sure-fire defensive catcher at the major league level. Something along the lines of Drew Butera or Eric Fryer, but with a hand-cannon of an arm. I've seen Ortega throw runners out at second from his knees more times than I can even understand. And not just throw them out, but throw them out by STEPS. He did it during the Midwest League all-star game it was almost comical. Just like this one: