May 27, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Former Pacifica standout Joey Ortiz excited about his chances in Major League draft

Joey Ortiz has dreams of playing in the Major Leagues. (Photo courtesy Chris Hook, New Mexico State sports information for OC Sports Zone).

For one local Orange County baseball player, the dream of playing professional baseball is likely just a few days away.

With the Major League draft set for this weekend, Joey Ortiz, a Garden Grove resident and former Pacifica High standout, is earmarked to be a high draft pick and he is poised to embark on a professional baseball career.

After finishing an outstanding junior season at New Mexico State, Ortiz is predicted by many baseball experts to be selected in one of the early rounds of the MLB draft. He was also named as one of the five finalists this week for the Brooks Wallace Award which is given to the College Baseball Foundation’s best college shortstop of the year.

Ortiz was named the Western Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year on Tuesday, May 28 after hitting .422 (third in the nation) for the Aggies this past season.

Not only did Ortiz lead the nation with 106 hits and in runs scored with 85, he topped the country with 10 triples while leading the Aggies to a share of the WAC championship for the first time since 2012. He was also third in the country with 84 RBI and third in total bases with 175.

The shortstop also shined in the field as well this season as he posted a .975 fielding percentage with 175 assists, 58 putouts and 31 double plays turned.

Ortiz said he’s not nervous about the draft which begins Monday.

“I’m hoping a team will take a chance on me at the next level,” Ortiz said. “If not, it’s not the end of the world, I’ll go back to New Mexico State and play my senior year and continue to work extra hard and focus on getting stronger and faster and do what needs to be done.”

The junior shortstop made it clear his goal is to play Major League baseball.

“One hundred percent,” Ortiz emphasized. “If we’re having this conversation in five years, I want to be playing Major League baseball. I don’t have a favorite team; I’ll go anywhere. I simply love playing the game.”  

Ortiz’s college coach Brian Green said Ortiz’s maturity has skyrocketed and Green compared him to some current Major Leaguers whom he’s coached.

“He is committed to being a major league baseball player,” said Green, who convinced Ortiz to commit to New Mexico State as a high school sophomore.  “I have no doubt he’ll play in the majors. I’ve coached Brandon Crawford at UCLA (now with the San Francisco Giants) and JT Riddle at Kentucky (now with the Florida Marlins) and Joey is very similar to those guys. He has arm strength and great baseball instincts.

“I see him in the minors for a couple of seasons and he’ll put on another 10-15 pounds. He will climb through the system quickly.”

Ortiz’s high school coach Mike Caira also had high praise for his former star.

“All reports seem to indicate that Joey could go anywhere between the third and seventh rounds,” said Caira. “Joey has worked hard and developed each year. He never stops working hard. He’s matured and he’s done a great job in college and he has the tools to be a major league baseball player. We knew he would be successful and would excel when we first saw him as a freshman. He took off running and went through the roof.”  

Ortiz’s coaches all seem to agree that his physical and mental development as a player has been the key to his success.

“He’s on the fast track and he’s a class kid with a warm heart, who is a workhorse,” Caira added.

“He had natural tools. He started on varsity half way through his freshman year. We knew he would be special. He was a little undersized but he could always pick it, that’s what got him to the varsity in his first year. He makes the routine plays and makes the difficult plays. His movement towards the ball stands out and he improved each year. He’s a natural athlete.”

In his senior year at Pacifica, Ortiz batted .417 with a .714 slugging percentage.

“He worked out at a local facility religiously all through high school and grew stronger,” said Devan Campos, an assistant coach at Pacifica during Ortiz’s tenure as a Mariner. “He’s a very humble and grounded guy. I’m pulling for him. I couldn’t be happier for a better kid.”

Green said Ortiz showed up at New Mexico State as a freshman as a quiet and shy kid but put his head down and immediately got to work.

“He’s a poster boy for development, character and consistency,” said Green. “He showed up weighing at 145 pounds and hit the weight room and now he’s a strong 185. In his freshman year, we slated him as our fourth infielder but after an injury to a starter, he stepped in and hit .290. He made himself into a great hitter and by the end of his freshman year, he had 20 multi-hit games and eight games of three hits or more.

“We saw something in him right out of the gate. His defensive skills were unbelievable as a freshman and he only made three errors at 3rd base all season. After we switched him to shortstop, he became the best shortstop in the west over the next three years. Joey’s an impact player. He has good hands and his defensive exchanges prove he has excellent hand-eye coordination. He has a tight, short swing and he loves to play. We think he’s one of the best in the country.  He’s a great story.”

Green and Caira also said that Ortiz’s has benefited from his summer league experience as well.

“The last few summers he’s played in the Northwood’s League in Wisconsin and in the Ripken League in Maryland and he gained valuable experience,” Green added. “You need personality, we pound that into our players. Joey gets it and he’ll be ready for the next step.  He really came out this year and his growth and development has been outstanding. It’s what he was working for.”

“Playing in the summer leagues were like business trips, not vacation, for him,” said Caira. “He handled it like a professional. He could play many years at a high level. He’s moved up and at every level he only gotten better.”

Ortiz said he valued his summer league experiences.  

“I’ve used the summer leagues to figure out what type of player I am,” Ortiz noted. “You’re exhausted after a long college season and it’s a grind, but I realized, I love playing and I 100 percent want to be a Major League baseball player.

“I don’t have any anxiety and I’m not nervous about the draft. I did everything I could do to take advantage of this opportunity and to get to the next level.”  

And sometime next week, Ortiz will learn where his journey will continue in search of his dream job.

Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone