Feb. 19, 2007
Pepperdine junior center fielder Adrian Ortiz was recently featured in Baseball America and the following is re-print of that article.
By Chris Gigley
Las Vegas, Nev. - A collective gasp arose in the press box at Nevada-Las Vegas' Earl E. Wilson Stadium when Pepperdine junior center fielder Adrian Ortiz got his first hit of the 2007 season. It wasn't how hard he hit a leadoff triple into the right-center-field gap. It was how fast he got to third base.
"He has game-changing speed," Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez said. "When you see a skill like that, you realize just how blessed you are when you get to watch it for three or four years."
The Waves were ranked 19th in the preseason, and Ortiz will have a lot to do with where the team goes from there. Rodriguez says the 6-foot, 165-pound Ortiz will be a factor on both sides of the ball.
"The most amazing thing is watching him play defense and go get balls out in center field," Rodriguez said. "At the same time, Adrian creates a lot of havoc for the other team's defense. That's what we're hoping for. We want him getting on base so our two, three and four hitters can drive him in, even if it's from first base."
For that to happen, Ortiz will have to hit the ball on a line or on the ground more consistently. He has started for the Waves in all three of his seasons at Pepperdine, hitting .281 with a .321 on-base percentage and 41 runs scored as a freshman and batting .340 with a .380 on-base percentage last season. Despite a career-high average and improved on-base percentage, Ortiz scored just 32 runs in 2006 mostly because of his plate approach.
"In my opinion, he's been too much of a fly-ball hitter for a leadoff guy," said an American League scout. "His game is all about line drives."
Ortiz' leadoff triple proved the scout's point. The hit had plenty of loft and probably would've been caught had it not fallen into the gap. To his credit, Ortiz understood that wasn't an ideal at-bat, despite the result.
"I don't want to hit fly balls," he said. "Even when I hit fly balls over guys' heads or in the gaps, I get a little bit upset about it. Getting on base and scoring runs is more important. Whether it's an error, a hit, a hit-by-pitch or a walk, it doesn't matter how I get on."
Rodriguez, a basestealing threat on Pepperdine's 1992 national championship-winning team, lets Ortiz make his own decisions on the base paths.
"That's part of the learning process," Rodriguez said. "When you're constantly telling kids what to do, they shut down their learning skills and just rely on you. You have to learn the game, as well, and that's something Adrian has been able to do over the past three seasons."
Ortiz has become particularly adept at reading pitchers.
"I notice a lot more tendencies now, like if a pitcher is throwing curveballs to righties," Ortiz said. "You get a lot smarter by just playing the game. You don't have to study it."
Ortiz studies the game anyway. Rodriguez said Ortiz spent his summer in the Cape Cod League working on his basestealing technique and strike-zone judgment. Last fall, Ortiz hit the weight room hard to build up his strength and endurance. Scouts cite Ortiz' makeup as a plus.
"He's a terrific kid who I find interesting and intelligent whenever I talk to him," the AL scout said. "I believe he understands the game of baseball and wants to improve. He certainly has the ability."
The scout compared Ortiz to former Oregon State standout Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox' top position prospect entering 2007. Ortiz isn't likely to be a first-round pick like Ellsbury was, but he has a chance to really boost his stock if he continues to refine his game.
"(Ortiz) has plus-plus speed in our books, and that's going to be a big key for him, especially being on the West Coast where there's not a lot of speed," the scout said. "There's not a lot of speed anywhere in the draft this year, so he stands out. It all boils down to Adrian being able to get on base more consistently."
Ortiz isn't letting on that he's feeling any pressure in a season that will likely determine where he begins his career in professional baseball. Ortiz admitted that he was excited knowing that scouts were interested in him.
"But I'm not going to change my game and try harder just because they're watching," Ortiz said. "I'm going to keep playing the same way and try just as hard as I did when they weren't watching."
If that effort translates to more line drives and more chances on the bases, 2007 will be a special year for him and his teammates.
Chris Gigley is a freelance writer based in Greensboro, N.C.