Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Luis Ortiz has strung together a handful of quality outings, but has he figured it out as a starter?
Earlier this year, I wrote that Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Luis Ortiz should move to the bullpen. At the time, Ortiz consistently struggled to make it out of the third inning unscathed, posting very different numbers in innings one and two before imploding in the third inning onward.
But in Ortiz’s most recent starts, he’s seemingly started to go a handful of innings at a time consistently. Ortiz has some impressive stuff, including a fastball that can hit triple-digits and a wipeout slider. With his most recent performance, is it too early to consider that he could be a starting pitcher instead?
In Ortiz’s last 31 innings, he’s posting a 2.61 ERA, .94 WHIP, and 2.48 FIP. He’s struck out over a third of the batters he has faced with a 35% strikeout
rate, but Ortiz hasn’t been just a thrower. He’s dished out walks to just 6.5% of his opponents. Ortiz has allowed just two home runs, leading to a 0.58 HR/9 rate.
Ortiz has gone between four and six innings in his last six starts. He turned in arguably his best start on Thursday evening. Ortiz held Omaha Storm Chasers (Kansas City’s Triple-A affiliate) to six no-hit innings. While Ortiz did allow three walks, he also struck out nine of the 23 batters he faced. He hit 100 MPH during his start.
Ortiz has a massive fastball, indicated by his high heat, as well as a quality slider. The issue has always been a lack of a third pitch. He has a change-up, but there is good news to bring. According to MLB Pipeline, which rank Ortiz as the organization’s 30th best prospect, the Pittsburgh Pirates were “very impressed” with how far his third offering has come along, at least during Spring Training at Bradenton.
It’s not as if Ortiz didn’t display the talent to be a starter at Double-A. He did have a 3.77 xFIP despite a 4.64 ERA and 4.46 FIP. He struck out 26.9% of the batters he faced while allowing walks to just 7.3% of opponents. The issue that plagued Ortiz was a 1.50 HR/9 rate. Despite that high home run rate, he had a strong 46.8% ground ball rate. Ortiz did get unlucky with some home runs, though, indicated by a 17.4% HR/FB ratio, which is what xFIP adjusts for.
Ortiz has serious talent, and now after seeing these last few starts, I believe I spoke too soon on the right-hander. Of course, there was reason for concern at the time, and we’re still looking at a sample size of fewer than 50 innings. But there’s clearly talent here for Ortiz. Even if his change-up becomes an average pitch, he has solid command over a heater that averages out around 96-97 MPH and can touch triple-digits.