Ryan Ortiz knows his role on the Sacramento River Cats, and even though it will involve a lot of sitting on the bench – at least initially – Ortiz is excited to be back with the River Cats and fellow Sacramento backstop Stephen Vogt.
"Playing with Stephen Vogt will be a great experience," Ortiz said just before the start of the regular season. "I got to do it a little bit last year, and he's a great guy. He taught me a lot."
After more than four seasons in the Oakland A's minor league system, Ortiz finally got an opportunity at the Triple-A level last year. It had been a struggle for Ortiz the previous two seasons. Drafted in the sixth-round in 2009 out of Oregon State, Ortiz initially made a very strong impression, especially at the plate. He posted an 818 OPS in the pitcher-friendly Northwest League in 2009 before jumping straight to High-A Stockton in 2010.
The 2010 season was a mixed bag for Ortiz. He played well, posting an 873 OPS with the Stockton Ports, but he also began to experience shoulder pain in his throwing arm. Ortiz eventually was shut-down and he had surgery. He missed more than half of the season. In 2011, Ortiz got back on the field, but he was eased back in slowly. He appeared in only 75 games overall (68 behind the plate).
Ortiz blistered California League pitching in 2011 (.340 with a 970 OPS in 28 games), but he struggled after making the jump to Double-A Midland (.237 with a 660 OPS). His throwing was also inconsistent as he rebuilt his arm strength following the surgery. He hit well during the Arizona Fall League season (.310/.473/.500), but he still struggled with his throws.
In 2012, Ortiz's shoulder was significantly healthier, but he still continued to struggle at the plate with Midland. He hit .167 in 44 games with the RockHounds before being sent back to Stockton. Back with the Ports, Ortiz hit better than he had with Midland, but he still wasn't up to his usual standards (.248 BA with a 794 OPS).
Things looked bleak for Ortiz at the start of the 2013 season, as the A's assigned him to High-A Stockton at the start of the year. However, injuries opened up an opportunity for Ortiz with Triple-A Sacramento, and he took advantage of his chances with the River Cats. He hit .270 with a 762 OPS in 36 games. Ortiz also played well defensively.
Ortiz says his shoulder is no longer an issue, and he is looking forward to continuing to grow as a catcher.
"The first season after the surgery was a little rough, but it was great last year and hopefully it will be great this year," Ortiz said.
After a rough year-and-a-half at the plate, Ortiz feels he made significant progress last year.
"Working with [River Cats' hitting coach Greg Sparks] was big," Ortiz said. "He changed my stance and my approach and that was a big step for me. I wanted to keep that going. I had a plan during the off-season. Working with him now has been great."
The past three springs, Ortiz has spent a significant amount of time in big league camp. In fact, last season Ortiz served as an extra in one of the A's commercials that was filmed at Papago Park. Although Ortiz has had a limited number of at-bats in big league spring games, he said he has learned a lot from his time with the big league club.
"It's been huge," Ortiz said. "Just learning from all of the big league catchers, especially defensively, and working with Chili [Davis, A's hitting coach] has been great. Whether it was sitting on the bench or being in the games, working with those guys has taught me a lot. "
Through Wednesday, Ortiz had appeared in only two of the River Cats' first seven games. With Vogt expected to play nearly everyday until he is needed in Oakland, Ortiz knows that his playing time with Sacramento could be limited. He doesn't mind and is focused on taking advantage of whatever playing time comes his way.
His goals for 2014 are simple:
"I want to keep on showing I can play," Ortiz said. "Defensively I want to be able to show that my arm is good, and show I can keep on hitting."
Russell Out At Least A Month; Berger Released
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported that top A's prospect Addison Russell will miss at least a month with a Grade 3 hamstring strain. Russell is in Arizona rehabbing at the A's minor league complex. Russell injured himself during a steal attempt in the second game of the season for the Midland Rockhounds. According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, the strain is higher in the leg than the strain that Russell suffered during spring training.
With Russell expected to miss so much time, the A's added to their infield depth by signing minor league free agent Colin Walsh and assigning him to Midland. Walsh was released by the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of spring training. He is expected to play a lot of second base for the RockHounds.
A Stanford alum, Walsh was a 13th-round pick of the Cardinals in 2010. He had a non-descript first full professional season in 2011, but he burst onto the prospect scene in 2012 with a big season for Low-A Quad Cities. In 97 games in the Midwest League, Walsh hit .314 with 16 homers and 68 RBI. A switch-hitter, Walsh has played in the outfield, second base, third base and first base in the pros.
Walsh takes the place of second baseman Antonio Lamas on the Midland roster. Lamas had replaced Russell on the roster over the weekend. The RockHounds announced that the A's had sold Lamas' contract to the Mexican Summer League.
The A's also said good-bye to left-hander Eric Berger, who was released by the organization on Wednesday. Berger was acquired by the A's from the Houston Astros' organization at the end of spring training. He allowed a run on three hits in 1.1 innings with the River Cats before his release. Recently optioned reliever Evan Scribner takes Berger's place on the River Cats' roster.
The A's also assigned infielder Luis Baez to Low-A Beloit. No corresponding move was announced. Baez joins the Snappers from extended spring training. He hit .184 in 54 games for short-season Vermont last season.
Stockton Drops Slugfest
In the final game of their season-opening roadtrip, the Stockton Ports lost a high-scoring affair to the Bakersfield Blaze, 8-6. The Ports return to Stockton with a 3-4 record, although they easily could have had at least two more wins.
The Ports got down early, as starter Tim Atherton allowed two runs in the bottom of the first. Stockton got one back in the top of the second, but Bakersfield scored one in the third, two in the fourth and one in the fifth to take a seemingly commanding 6-1 lead.
The Stockton offense came roaring back in the top of the fifth, scoring five runs and knotting the game at six. Ryan Doolittle and Austin House each allowed solo homeruns in the bottom of the eighth, however, and the Ports couldn't respond in the top of the ninth. Atherton allowed six runs (four earned) in five innings. He walked three and struck-out two. Doolittle allowed a run on three hits in two innings. He didn't walk a batter and he struck-out one. House allowed a run in an inning of work. He also struck-out one batter.
The Ports' line-up combined for 12 hits and six walks. Billy McKinney reached base three times (two walks and a double) out of the lead-off spot. Although his batting average is just .231, McKinney's OPS is 949 through the first six games. Renato Nunez is also off to a fast start. He had three hits on Wednesday, including his first homer of the season. Nunez has 11 hits in 31 at-bats (.355 BA) and a 975 OPS in seven games.
The Ports' home opener is Thursday night at Banner Island Ballpark.
Snappers Nip Silver Hawks
In a pitcher's duel, the Beloit Snappers pulled out a 3-2 win over the South Bend Silver Hawks to move to 4-2 on the season. Beloit pitchers Bobby Wahl, Sam Bragg and Lee Sosa combined to hold the Silver Hawks to two runs on eight hits. They walked only three and struck-out 14.
Wahl got the start and he had a very strong outing. In five innings, he allowed just a single run on seven hits. He walked one and struck-out seven. Bragg, who is piggy-backing with Wahl this season, had an outstanding relief appearance. In three innings, he allowed just one run on one hit and no walks. He struck-out four and earned the win. Sosa recorded the save with a scoreless ninth. He walked two but struck-out out the side to earn his first save of the season.
The Snappers managed just five hits, but it was enough to eek out the win. Boog Powell had two of the five hits. He raised his average to .318 and his OBP to .400 in six games this season. He also drove-in his first run of the season. Luis Baez, making his first appearance for Beloit on the day he joined the team, had an RBI double. He came in in relief of Chih-Fang Pan, who left the game in the first inning for undisclosed reasons.
B.J. Boyd and Tyler Marincov had the other two hits for Beloit. Marincov also walked twice and scored two runs. Marincov is off to a red-hot start. In five games, he has a .429/.579/.786 line with five walks, a homerun and two stolen bases.
River Cats End Road-Trip On winning Note
The Sacramento River Cats will begin their first homestand of the season on a winning streak after defeating the Las Vegas 51's by a score of 7-4. The win brings the River Cats to 3-4 on the season.
Sacramento pounded out 10 hits in the win. Jake Goebbert went a perfect 3-for-3 with a walk. He had one RBI and he scored twice. Ryan Ortiz also scored twice and he had two hits, while Shane Peterson had two hits, Anthony Aliotti scored twice and walked twice and Jose Martinez drove-in two.
Sean Murphy earned his first Triple-A win. He allowed three runs on five hits and four walks in 5.2 innings. The tall right-hander struck-out three. Paul Smyth and Evan Scribner bridged the gap to the ninth inning and Joe Savery finished off the game, allowing a two-out run before finally ending it.
Sacramento's home opener is on Friday night at Raley Field.