Luis Ortiz was one of the Pirates’ best minor league starting pitchers. However, that was with the Low-A Bradenton Marauders. He’s now in the starting rotation with the Altoona Curve, and while he has shown some talent, the results haven’t been there for the big right-hander.
In 99.1 innings of work, Ortiz has a 4.89 ERA with an almost identical 4.88 FIP. However, he is holding opponents to just a .230 average against, has allowed just 7.8% to reach via the free pass, and has a solid 25.2% strikeout rate. Much of Ortiz’s struggles can be traced back to the number of home runs he’s given up. Despite his excellent performance on Tuesday, Ortiz’s HR/9 still sits at an ugly 1.63 rate.
Granted, there is some bad luck at play here. Ortiz has a well above average 47.3% ground ball rate and HR/FB ratio of 19.6%. That’s the fifth highest qualified HR/FB rate at Double-A. Notably, it’s the highest HR/FB ratio at Double-A among pitchers who induce ground balls over 45% of the time. Last year, he had a much more reasonable 8.9% HR/FB percentage, leading to a .52 HR/9.
Ortiz averages out in the mid-to-upper 90s. He has big velocity, along with a big breaking ball. The problem is he has no third offering. Ortiz’s changeup sits at a 30-grade pitch now and only has a ceiling of a 40-grade offering. That’s concerning, given that every starting pitcher needs at least a fourth average pitch they can rely on to some degree.
In Ortiz’s defense, he performs much better through the game’s early stages. In innings one and two, Ortiz has an ERA of just 2.20 and a FIP of 3.30. He has a K/9 of 10.1 and BB/9 of 2.2. His K:BB ratio in innings one and two is 4.6. Ortiz’s HR/9 is also a much better .88 rate. However, the only inning after the second in which he has an ERA below 5.00 is the 4th, coming in with a 4.24 mark.
I’d like to see how Ortiz would do with better fly ball luck. His xFIP, which helps normalize his HR/FB rate, is 4.00. While that’s still not great, it’s a massive improvement from 4.89. But he still struggles to get through a line-up a second time, which is a side-effect of lacking a third pitch. I think Ortiz is closer to Tahnaj Thomas than he is to Kyle Nicolas or Mike Burrows. Improving Ortiz’s change-up would be like trying to teach him a new pitch altogether.