Luis Ortiz could become a high-leverage bullpen arm for the Pittsburgh Pirates

Luis Ortiz showed a ton of promise in his 2024 debut and made massive strides compared to 2023 already. He could become a high-leverage reliever for the Pirates this year.

Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates
Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages

Luis Ortiz was one of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ best prospects heading into the 2023 season. However, after struggling when pitching primarily as a starting pitcher, the Pirates look like they’ll mostly use Ortiz in shorter stints out of the bullpen. But based on what Ortiz displayed in the season-opening series, the flamethrowing right-hander has the potential to be a multi-inning bullpen ace for the Bucs.

Ortiz pitched two scoreless appearances in the series. He walked three, but two were intentional walks, which did not matter since the Pirates were playing in Miami in extras. To this point, he has allowed just one unintentional walk and no hits in four innings. Two of the top ten plays in win probability added in the opener happened with Ortiz on the mound, and he displayed he could handle high leverage.

But more importantly, Ortiz’s sinker averaged 96.1 MPH. He is throwing nearly as hard as he was when he made his debut back in 2022 and looked outstanding in September. He’s also throwing his sinker with more movement than ever before. His sinker has 24.3 inches of vertical break. Last year, only ten pitchers threw a sinker that averaged 97+ MPH (which Ortiz averaged on Opening Day) with over 20 inches of vertical drop. He also is throwing with more horizontal movement at 17.8 inches. Last year, only 31 pitches threw a sinker with 17.5+ inches of horizontal break. None threw as hard as Ortiz was in his 2024 debut.

His sinker isn’t the only pitch that saw a massive uptick in velocity. His slider also gained over two whole MPH in speed and sat at 88.4 MPH. It’s a much harder slider than last year and only 58 of the 346 pitches that threw a slider at least 100 times averaged out at 88 MPH or higher. Although his slider has lost some vertical break and currently sitting at 31 inches, he is still throwing it with decent horizontal movement at 4.8 inches.

Ortiz only needed 33 pitches to get through four innings, as he induced two ground ball double plays, but he showed that high leverage wasn’t an issue for him. He might not be a starting pitcher long-term, but I could definitely see him settling into a bullpen role. It would be awesome if he could consistently go two innings when asked and work in higher leverage. Imagine if Ortiz could take over both the seventh and eighth inning role more frequently. That would be a massive boost to the Pirates’ bullpen.

Ortiz will be just 25 for the rest of 2024. His outstanding debut was extremely promising, especially given how much velocity he added. Both his sinker and slider were up by at least two whole MPH from 2023. He could become yet another long-term piece of an already strong-looking bullpen.