Dennis Ortega (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The catcher had a breakout offensive campaign in his first season of play in the US.

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues with a hot-hitting catcher from the Gulf Coast League at #43. Details for TCN members.

http://www.scout.com/player/184766-dennis-ortega?s=321

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
NR C 06 11 97 2013 IFA

Selected 2016 stats

Tm AVG BABIP AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wOBA OBP SLG OPS
GCL 0.357 0.402 115 23 41 4 0 16 15 13 7 0.417 0.439 0.426 0.865

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (44): Dennis Ortega is not new to the community discussion. During the 2015 vote, he began receiving support as we reached the mid-40’s from long-time posters UncleDenny and cflood despite it being his first year in the Dominican Summer League. Flash-forward two years and it appears their judgment was on the nose as Ortega was picked at #44 in the 2017 community vote. Bccran put Ortega on the board earliest, choosing him as his 32nd best prospect.

Bccran mentioned that one scout felt Ortega was the best catcher in the entire GCL with his .865 OPS and solid defense. Mudville pointed out that Ortega threw out 41% of base-stealers this year. Wileycard went for Ortega with his #42 vote pointing out that Ortega is athletic with a sweet bat that tore up the GCL with a .357 batting average. - Jeremy Byrd

 

Derek Shore (40): In his first season stateside as a professional, Ortega enthused observers with Ben Badler of Baseball America labeling him as the best catching prospect in the Gulf Coast League for the 2016 season.

Ortega, 19, become the third catcher since 2011 to sign a six-figure deal for the Cardinals after inking a $125,000 pact in August of 2013. According to Baseball America, he was a defense-first catcher with quick feet and good flexibility behind the plate as an amateur. Ortega also had a good arm that received future plus grades and made accurate throws.

At the plate, however, was a different story. His right-handed bat wasn't smooth as his swing would drag and get underneath the ball but had quickness with a projectable 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame with long levers and broad shoulders.

Ortega spent two seasons with the DSL Cardinals, compiling a meager .237 average (67-for-282) with 22 RBI but that was before his offense translated into games this past summer. The Valencia, Venezuela native found a good hitting approach and took off to the tune of a .357/.439/.426 slash line while drawing more walks than strikeouts (13-to-15 strikeout to walk) an impressive feat for a teen in his first summer stateside.

The latest reports have Ortega being a bigger-framed catcher, who is athletic and agile for his size. He is supposedly a decent receiver with a plus arm after throwing out 41 percent of would-be baserunners and projects to stick at the position.

Offensively, he understands the strike zone is a good contact hitter with some gap power to boot. He also has a willingness to work the count and take walks. He is not slow, especially for a catcher, but has good baserunning instincts and doesn't make the typical mistakes of 19-year-olds.

There are concerns about his ability to make authoritative contact, but there's still room to get stronger, and power is typically the last tool to come to fruition for a young hitter.

Ortega is arguably a top 30 prospect, and he has the makings of a solid backstop. As much as the Cardinals have pushed Latin prospects over the last year, I would not be surprised if Ortega is another and opens 2017 at Low-A Peoria. 

 

Brian Walton (44): It is not a major spoiler to disclose that Cardinals 2016 first-rounders Delvin Perez and Dylan Carlson will not appear in this top 50 countdown for several weeks. Yet, TCN’s GCL Cardinals Player of the Year was not either of them, but was Ortega, instead. The selection was made by Paul Ivice, who attended most home games this past summer.

Ortega received the nod for his consistency throughout the season. In the 31 games in which he had at least two at-bats, he failed to get a hit in only three. The right-handed hitter did not display much power, but hit .372 with a .912 OPS in 16 July games and followed that with a .367 average and .883 OPS in 17 August games as the club went on the take the league title.

Ortega finished just 13 plate appearances short of qualifying for the GCL batting title, and his .357 final average would have put him second. On his team, Ortega was second to Perez in steals and second to Carlson in walks, and was the only player who appeared in at least 12 games with more walks than strikeouts (15/13).

As noted above, Ortega provided strong and consistent defense behind the dish, making only two errors and throwing out 12 of 29 (41 percent) of runners trying to steal.

In leadership, Ortega also received high marks, along with a college draftee, Stefan Trosclair.

“Ortega was more vocal, Trosclair is more of a quiet leader by example,” GCL Cards manager Steve Turco said.

With a group of young, promising catchers coming out of the Dominican academy, I asked Cardinals director of international operations Moises Rodriguez if the organization sees a catching pipeline developing.

“Yes, we have talked about that internally,” Rodriguez said. “We seem to have a couple of guys at the lower levels that we are excited about, the coaches are excited about.”

Rodriguez sees several years of hard work starting to pay off for Ortega. 

“Ortega was a two-year project at the academy,” he said. “He was raw, projectable, sort of large-framed catcher, 6-foot-2, but with a lot of ability. He was just too weak and sort of came into his own this year at the Gulf Coast, hitting over .350 and striking out very little.

“Not a lot of power, but I think what you will see from younger players is that the power is the last thing to come in baseball in general. He has enough lift in his swing and makes enough contact that with his body projection, could hit for some power down the road,” Rodriguez concluded. 

I asked Cardinals minor league hitting coordinator George Greer what changed in Ortega’s approach that turned him from a weak-hitting catcher in the Dominican into a batting championship contender at a higher level the very next season.

“He really uses the whole field well,” Greer said this fall. “He has bought into the concept of hitting the away pitch to the opposite field and pull the pitch in and still stay in the middle of the field when the pitch is in the middle of the plate.”

That definitely sounds promising, but I cannot help but fixate on Ortega’s BABIP. His .402 mark is as extraordinary as it is unsustainable. In addition to the improved approach at the plate, it seems he was the benefit of some good fortune in 2016.

As evidenced by Johnson City’s Andrew Knizner having appeared in this top 50 already and State College’s Jeremy Martinez yet to come, the Cardinals have some very promising catching talent in short-season ball ahead of Ortega. While I like Ortega’s potential, I do not see an opening for him to catch every day in full season ball. A more realistic approach would seem to be extended spring training followed by a jump to State College or Johnson City.

TCN Scouting Grade: 4, Risk: High (click here to review scales)

 

Our 2017 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. Thank you for being a member!

 

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