Pittsburgh Pirates: Luis Ortiz Excels in Two Areas

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Luis Ortiz is highly talented, but there are two areas in which he excels in that could make him an elite pitcher

Over the past year, Pittsburgh Pirates' Luis Ortiz has become a blue-chip prospect. Ortiz had an outstanding year at Bradenton in 2021 and followed that up with a decent year between Double-A and Triple-A. The numbers might not show it, as he had just a 4.56 ERA and 4.40 FIP, but he had an above-average 27.1% strikeout rate and 7.5% walk rate. However, given his 17.4% HR/FB ratio, fly ball luck wasn’t on his slide. Given that he’s a soft-contact and ground ball merchant, there’s plenty to indicate he could lower his 1.45 HR/9.

Ortiz has some very impressive stuff. He was sitting upper-90s and regularly hit 100 MPH. Not only does he throw his four-seamer with top-of-the-line velocity, but he does so with above-average spin. He sat in the 80th percentile of fastball spin rate and had a spin efficiency of 99%. He also throws a slider with nearly 35 inches of vertical movement. His change-up is clearly his third offering, but he still averaged out with roughly average movement.

However, there are two things that standout about Ortiz’s game that give him an extremely bright outlook. The first is he gets a ton of swings and misses. Ortiz had a 29.8% whiff rate. Whiff rate is just how often batters swing and miss, and the league average rate is 24.8%. Last year, 26 pitchers had a whiff rate of 29% or higher, and only four had an ERA above 4.00 (two of them had a DRA below 4.00 as well, that being Hunter Greene and Charlie Morton).

His other massive strength is limiting hard contact. Opponents had just an 86.1 MPH exit velocity against him. The league average is 88.4 MPH; anything below 87 MPH is elite territory. Only 62 pitchers faced 200+ batters while keeping an exit velocity below 87 MPH. Even fewer had a sub-86.5 MPH exit velo (37 to be exact) with the same minimum batters faced.

There’s very little overlap between the elite swing-and-miss pitchers and elite soft-contact merchants. However, in the little overlap, there is, many are elite-level players. Most are relievers, though, like Edwin Diaz, Camilo Doval, Emmanuel Clase, Andres Munoz, and Adam Ottavino. But there were some highly talented starting pitchers in the overlap, including Edward Cabrera and Dylan Cease. Of all those pitchers Cabrera had the highest ERA at 3.01.

Keep in mind that it’s still a small sample size of fewer than 20 innings pitched. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Ortiz is highly talented, and the small sample size was impressive. Plus, it’s not as if these are Ortiz’s only strengths. He has kept a sub-8% walk rate despite his blazing fastball, which is not what you typically see from young flamethrowers. Baseball Savant also compares his pitch arsenal based on velocity and movement to some very good pitchers, including Luis Castillo, Gerrit Cole, and this year’s National League Cy Young Award winner, Sandy Alcantara.

There are a lot of reasons that Ortiz has rocketed up prospect boards over the past year, and it’s because of his elite skillset. He throws hard with movement, has good control, gets swings and misses, and prevents hard contact. There aren’t many pitchers who do all of these things, and the ones who are able to do so are the cream of the crop. Ortiz more than deserves an extended look in the big leagues next season in the starting rotation.

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