Pittsburgh Pirates: Luis Ortiz's Underrated Rookie of the Year Potential

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Yankees
Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Yankees / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages

Pirate right-handed pitching prospect Luis Ortiz is entering the season with some very underrated National League Rookie of the Year potential

The Pittsburgh Pirates debuted right-hander Luis Ortiz late last season. He only made four starts but showed immense promise in those few outings. Ortiz will likely get an extended look in the big leagues sometime next season. If and when he eventually gets that chance, the right-hander could become one of baseball’s most underrated National League Rookie of the Year candidates.

Ortiz’s stuff was off the charts in 2022. He was averaging out in the upper-90s while hitting triple-digits with ease. He was in the top 98th percentile of fastball velo and the top 80th percentile of fastball spin rate. His fastball was even better because his four-seamer’s active spin rate was 96%. His slider also averaged out with nearly 35 inches of vertical break, mainly due to his active spin rate of 20%.

A lot of people are sleeping on Ortiz’s changeup. It averages out to 27.3 inches of drop and 14.9 inches of horizontal movement. Ortiz’s changeup is also a hard off-speed pitch, hitting 90.9 MPH. Rafael Montero’s changeup had similar velocity and movement and had a -6 run value. Milwaukee Brewers’ ace Corbin Burnes also had a similar change and also induced above-average results.

Based on his pitch velocity and movement, Baseball Savant compares his arsenal to some very talented players. Their five comparisons are Luis Castillo, Gerrit Cole, Jordan Hicks, Hunter Greene, and National League Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara. It doesn’t take a genius to identify that’s some very talented company to be with. According to Stuff+, which is a measurement based on the physical characteristics of a pitch and a new statistic that has started to gain popularity, it currently has Ortiz as one of the nastiest pitchers in Spring Training so far (small sample size withstanding).

But, as I brought up in my previous article about Ortiz, two major factors make him a potential future ace; he gets swings-and-misses, and he induces soft contact. In the brief major league playing time he received in 2023, Ortiz held opponents to an 86.1 MPH exit velocity (which would rank around the top 93rd percentile if he pitched enough to qualify). Ortiz also had a swing-and-miss rate of 29.8% (around the 80th percentile if he qualified).

There’s a very small amount of overlap between the two areas of elite swing-and-miss pitchers and elite soft-contact pitchers. That little overlap includes some of baseball’s most dominant pitchers, such as Emmanuel Clase, Edwin Diaz, Andres Munoz, and Cy Young finalist Dylan Cease. Most include relievers, but the dominance can’t be overstated.

The rest of the Rookie Of The Year competition could look quite fierce. Some could include Ortiz’s own teammates like Endy Rodriguez, Nick Gonzales, Quinn Priester, and the like. Corbin Caroll and Jordan Walker are projected to be among the top rookies in baseball. There are certainly some very talented young pitchers like Kodai Senga, Kyle Harrison, and Bobby Miller as well worth keeping an eye on.

When looking at players who could win Rookie Of The Year, Luis Ortiz’s name isn’t one of the first that comes up. He’s not even a consensus top 100 prospect, with only FanGraphs and Baseball America as the two major publications that have put him in their top 100 list. Not even the highly bullish MLB Pipeline puts Ortiz among their top 100. But as we saw last year with Spencer Strider (a similar flamethrower with the same kind of arsenal), and Rookie Of The Year winner Michael Harris III, not being a consensus top 100 prospect doesn’t mean you’re out of the running.

Now sure, a lot of the data talked about here today is based on small sample sizes, but there’s a reason many evaluators have become highly bullish on Ortiz. Many of the comparisons aren’t wholly outlandish or without reason or data backing it up. At the very least, Ortiz has the potential to be the most underrated rookie pitcher in 2023, but I definitely think he has the stuff and talent to be the Pirates’ next Rookie of the Year if he can continue to display the stuff he flashed in 2022.

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