MadFriars: What do you know now in this role that you didn’t when you started back in 2015?
Luis Ortiz: I think it’s a combination of things, not one thing. A lot of it is that this is a people’s business. You’ve got to grow people, and sadly, the ones that don’t want to grow with you, you’ve got to find a way to upgrade in those areas. What we have here is a very expensive product and we’ve got to take care of it. The organization depends on the flow of the talent going through the upper levels and eventually to the big leagues. If we don’t have the right people leading those young minds, then it bottlenecks and it makes the process a lot more difficult.
How do you balance your job coordinating with the hands-on instruction of individual players?
Luis Ortiz: The main thing is trusting our coaches and trying to come up with a program where you have the same vision, the same wording, the same drills. I think we all come from different backgrounds, but there have to be lifelines that connect us. The tendency of every human being is to teach what we know. But for us as an organization, we have some core, foundational stuff that we have to instill in our players, and that is non-negotiable stuff. So after our coaches are able to understand that and be hands-on in that department, then I start weaning myself away and letting them be more hands-on and me stepping back and it’s more of a feedback role.I still like to be super involved, but at the end of the day, these [coaches] are going to spend the bulk of their time with those players.
As you get a bigger and bigger group of coaches and specialists, how do you manage the staffing piece of it?
Luis Ortiz: It’s like any business book that you read, and business guru that you hear; at the end of the day, it comes down to people. People and processes. You try to do the best job getting the people are like-minded – not so much that they have similar personalities, but that they have a growth mindset and they have energy and put in the effort. That they love the player. That they’re leaders in their domain and contributors in everything else. At the end of the day, it’s about having guys who take that piece that they have and they make it grow.
I’ve seen a lot more of the scouting-side guys around watching your players. It was true last year, and it’s definitely been true this spring. How does that back-and-forth inform and help your work?
Luis Ortiz: That’s always been a vision of A.J. Preller. In most organizations, it seems that they are two or three different groups; you’ve got scouting, you’ve got development and you’ve got the big leagues. For us to become what we hope to become, there has to be synergy. If they know what we do, they’re going to look for players that we can take. And they have knowledge of the players that we might not know. At the end of the day, you start to have a holistic approach on development. Usually, scouts are going to look for the good things that a player does. And by nature, development is trying to fix the wrong stuff, the bad stuff, that they’re doing. Hopefully, you have a clear mindset of what you’re looking for and you don’t get territorial or very sensitive, and then it can be a very complete approach to development.
How does the make-up of the talent pool in the organization this year change how you go about your work? Do you feel like you have to accelerate some of what you do to adjust to the youth you’ve got out here?
Luis Ortiz: I think the best thing that ever happened to us was that we started with lesser talent and we were raise the level of skill of those guys by making them work really hard and coming up with creative drills and trying to get information to them that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. And the fact that we have that foundation, all of the sudden, it’s a lot easier. I mean, these guys are more talented, but at the same time, they have a ways to go.
I think the easiest thing now is that you don’t have to repeat it more than one time. That’s the coolest thing about a lot of the guys that we have now is that you say it one time, maybe two times, and they get it. It’s almost like they had it the whole time. We have a three year plan – in my department of the position players and hitting group. We were at a macro level at the beginning; instilling the right work ethic and having the right information and trying to clean up some mechanical flaws. And then last year, it was about the timing, learning how to use their body properly, when to start, when to swing. Now we’re going into a more micro level; let’s make the right decisions, let’s recognize pitches. Now that the foundations are there, I think it’s going to accelerate the process. Now it’s more of a mind game than what it was a couple of years ago when it was more of a physical development.
If we went back 12 months and made a list of the eight guys you had to see improve for the system to be in a good place, you saw significant improvement from probably six of the eight, which is a pretty strong year. As you evaluate last year’s progress, what stand out to you as strengths, and what were you hoping to get done that you haven’t?
Luis Ortiz: Well, I would argue that the two you’re probably saying didn’t develop as much, maybe weren’t more on the concrete part of the game, but on the mindset and the way you go about the business, they probably improved as well. We would like to have a map of how to do things, but every mind that we have here… I tell our coaches, it’s like visiting a city you’ve never visited before and you’ve got to navigate. And you don’t have a GPS, so you just have to learn where to go, and what are the shortcuts and what are safe areas and what are not. When you have that mindset, where every individual is a different world and you’ve got to attack that particular kid according to who he is, then you start getting a lot of the improvement that you see.
But yeah, I think a lot of our boys have gotten better. A lot of it has been the consistency of our coaches being consistent and demanding standards. And the second thing is that these kids want it. They want to be big leaguers and they know that they’re in an organization right now that they know they have an opportunity to do it.
Since I think you were referencing Javier Guerra, did you have a lot of opportunity to work with him over the winter and as he went into big league camp?
Luis Ortiz: Yeah, we talked a lot. He comes to me for a lot of things. You become like a father figure to a lot of these boys. And it’s surprising that the stuff that happened to him for example, doesn’t happen more often. I mean, you get traded and the expectations are really high and you put a lot of pressure on yourself. We’re a microcosm of society – what you see happening over there happens in here, and you see it in hundreds of thousands of people outside the fence, but we’re surprised when it happens to an athlete? They’re just like any other person who’s going to have their struggles and to continue to grow, they’re going to have to continue to overcome those challenges. And I think he’s learning how to navigate those in a way that’s going to be beneficial to him and the organization.
It seems like the flip side of the depth of talent in the organization is that guys who, in the past may have gotten a second or third chance because of a big tool, now may not have that chance.
Luis Ortiz: That’s one of the reasons we had to add another team in rookie ball. It reminds me a lot of when I was with the Rangers in 2008, 2009, 2010, where guys who wouldn’t play there would go to another organization and actually become prospects. That’s the vision of our G.M. is about acquiring talent, having them compete, and the best are going to survive. At the end of the day, that’s what happens at the big leagues. We tell our guys, that every single day, only 390 position players can say that they could play in a major league game that day, so you’ve got to be special. And now it happens at this level. The numbers are big, but you’ve got to separate yourself.
Last year, there were a few guys who really made significant changes in mechanics and approach that led to an important big jump forward in performance. Does news about that sort of adjustment and improvement start to make it through your staff pretty quickly?
Luis Ortiz: There’s always an excitement when you see somebody that you’ve seen the potential and the talent, but for one reason or another, all of the sudden something clicks, the eureka moment happened, and he starts showing the promise that we thought he had. But you also have to know that baseball is a long journey, so you say okay, let’s keep improving it and what’s now going to be the next challenge. Is he going to be able to make the next adjustment, are the routines going to continue to be consistent, or is he going to think he’s already figured it out? I tell our guys, there’s a body mind and soul interchange there, and they have to all be the same. It can’t be I’m going to keep doing these drills, but my mind is not in it. You’ll get exposed really quickly. So we have to wait it out. We’re encouraged, but we also know it needs to be consistent to stay at a level.
Even though so many of your guys are so young, they’ve got a lot more exposure to the game, and exposure at high levels, than a lot of 17- or 18- or 19-year-olds. Is that something that’s been intentional about this?
Luis Ortiz: It’s one of the things that you always think about. If you’ve got two guys with similar talent but one’s been in more game situations, he’s going to show that promise a little sooner. Whenever you’ve got an opportunity to get a guy like that, you’re going to jump on it. But the thing is, all the other 29 teams are also looking at the guy. We understand that smart baseball players that are talented and have a good makeup are going to find a way to play a long time. Sometimes you sacrifice something when you’ve got a high-ceiling guy who maybe hasn’t played much or maybe isn’t as prepared as some of the other guys and you think with the right information, the right work, something’s going to click. But the chances are that somebody that knows how to think and knows how to play the game, he’s going to find some shortcuts that will speed up his process of making it.