Profile: 5'11" - 170lbs - TH:R - BT:R - 2011 Age: 22
• FB 94-95: Too straight, inconsistent delivery decreases command. (60-65)
• SL 81-85: Can hump the pitch. Needs more consistent tight rotation. Could add velocity with refinement. (50-60)
Signed in 2006 out of Venezuela, Ortega is a surprisingly large 5'11" 165lbs. He's very muscular and though his lack of height does prevent him from creating ideal down-plane, he hs a long stride and does a very good job working out front, allowing him to get his already powerful fastball to the plate quicker than hitters expect.
There are things I like a lot about Ortega's delivery such as his long stride, and his good high 3/4 slot. But there are other things I do not. Mostly, I'm concerned about injury. Ortega has a tendency to pronate his elbow later than I like to see, which adds extra stresses. He also tends to land on a stiff lead leg which helps him create a lot of whip-like effect with his arm, but also causes his body and arm to recoil rather violently on follow-through. That same rough landing also hurts his control. It's a difficult fix for Ortega however. The maximum effort that he puts into his delivery is the only reason he can generate such impressive velocity despite having so little body to put into his motion.
After spending his first two seasons in the Venezuelan Summer League, Ortega got his first real taste of American professional baseball in A ball in 2009. The results were mixed with some really good (8.5K/9) and really bad (6.1BB/9) performances metrics. His second full season would be 2010, and he took full advantage, rocketing through three levels of Detroit's system in his first year of full-season baseball.
While Ortega had never thrown more tan 45 innings in any one season, he'd throw 67 last year, compiling an 8.0K / 4.1BB rate. That doesn't seem fantastic on the surface, but his poor walk rate was significantly hampered by a poor start to the season where he allowed 17 walks over his first 26 innings. He'd allow just 14 over his final 43 innings. Still not fantastic, but better. More importantly, he showed progress as he advanced levels.
Of course I have to provide the standard - these are all small sample sizes were forced to work with, and as a result, it can be difficult to assess performance from one stop to the next. Still, his ability to convince the Tigers coaching staff that he was good enough to take two steps in one year - and the fact that he held his own - is a very strong endorsement. Unfortunately, his performance metrics are still more good than great, hopefully he can take another step next season.
Ortega is still plenty young, being just 22 entering the 2011 season, yet the Tigers have already added him to their 40-man roster suggesting they feel confident his future will come sooner than later. I'm guessing that he'll open the season in AAA, but realistically there is still plenty of room for improvement should the Tigers decide to have him repeat AA.
His overall projection is one of the more difficult ones I'll have for a guy who might rank in a team's Top-10. The stuff is probably there for him to be a setup man - and his fastball could play already. But he's got work to do across the board. He needs to smooth out his delivery, he needs to improve his command, he needs to tighten up his breaking ball. That's a lot to accomplish and odds are he'll never fulfill all of it.
Right now he kind of reminds me of a young Jesse Crain - a mini version. They both have hard, homer-prone fastballs with a slider that could potentially dominate. If and when that'll ever come to fruition however, is really up in the air. He's likely to reach the Majors before he's completely ready and injuries will always be a concern.
Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net and 312Sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus.