Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Luis Ortiz

EVERETT, Wash. – The lower levels of the Texas Rangers' minor league system are currently stocked with young but talented position players. Lone Star Dugout discussed some of those prospects with Rangers' roving minor league hitting coordinator Luis Ortiz.

Jason Cole: Tell me about getting to work with Zach Cone here. When I interviewed him a couple days ago, he talked a little about the adjustments he was making with his swing. What are you guys working on with him?

Luis Ortiz: Zach is a great athlete. There is such a good tool package there that you can do so much with. It's just a matter of some things that he got away with. He is very good as far as taking the barrel to the ball. There are some issues with the legs. I think if we can synchronize that––with the good swing path that he has––I think he could be pretty special. But it's just a matter of getting away with being more talented and stronger than everybody else around. And we're just trying to clean that up and make him more consistent.

Cole: Is part of the problem that he maybe doesn't stay back enough at times?

Ortiz: Yeah, that's one of the things. He's very aggressive. That's a good thing––that he goes there to hit. That's one thing that you have to teach most of the guys. You have to say, ‘Hey, come on. Let's go after it.' But you don't have to worry about that with him.

It's a matter of teaching him to recognize pitches better and not to swing at pitches that are maybe a little more of a pitcher's pitch––those that get him out. Most of those times, he's getting himself out instead of the pitcher getting him out. If he's able to lay off some of those pitches and maybe get into a better hitting count, then his power numbers will go up and the balls are going to be jumping off his bat a little better.

Cole: Another guy with a ton of talent is Jordan Akins, and I know you just got to work with him down in Arizona before you came up here. First of all, how much progress have you seen from him since last year?

Ortiz: It's amazing. We need to put a collage of videos of the last two years. The work that the coaches have been doing over there––Oscar Bernard and Hector Ortiz and everybody there––is amazing. But they stuck with it, they knew he was a project, and you're starting to see how he looks like a player. He hits the ball in batting practice now, and it's fun. It's really fun. Before, seven or eight out of 10, it wasn't very good. Now, he's the other way around. He's putting on a show in BP, and it's starting to show in the games, too. He is very exciting to see.

Cole: What are some of the areas he has improved in mechanically during the last year?

Ortiz: Well, he didn't have much experience. His baseball IQ was very limited. You could tell that he was more of a football player than a baseball player. So we tried to give him the right information so he would be able to use those tools as a baseball player. That's one.

Number two might be just learning to understand that he has those long arms. He's about 6-foot-5, so he is going to be pitched a lot different. He has to learn what pitches he can swing at and about controlling the head. He has a tendency to go and chase a pitch––chasing a lot of the sliders away. It's things like that. Things that every hitter has to work on, but we basically started with a blank canvas with him.

Cole: Luis Sardinas is another guy in Arizona. He's coming off the shoulder surgery and has only been batting right-handed. He tried to hit lefty once recently and then went back to only right-handed for now, correct?

Ortiz: Yeah. That's the way he got hurt. He got hurt by letting go of the top hand while hitting left-handed. So that's what hurt the shoulder, and that is why he ended up having the problems that he had. So he did it again––I think he was maybe fooled by a changeup or something. He let go of it a little early, and there was a little issue. So we're just going to leave it like that. We're going to let him finish the season hitting right-handed and then see what happens in instructional league.

Cole: How, in your estimation, does he look right-handed now? Being a switch-hitter, he probably hasn't seen much righty-righty pitching.

Ortiz: Yeah, you're right on that. It has been challenging for him. Those breaking balls are now breaking away from him. But, what he was saying was that––before he signed professionally––he was only basically a right-handed hitter. So he had a little experience with that. It's not the kind of pitching that he is seeing now, but he has still seen it before. It's just a matter of him getting used to it.

I think it's just a preventive thing. It's a good way for him to go at it because he is so young. We don't want it to be a recurring problem with him. But the other thing that he's doing is that he is starting to understand his right-handed swing. He used to be a high leg-kick guy, the head would fly off, and all that. He thought he was a power hitter, and he weighs about 152 pounds. So now he's starting to understand his idea as a hitter. I think it is helping him understand that if he stays within himself, he can be a pretty good player.

Cole: Jurickson Profar is obviously having an incredible season for an 18-year-old prospect in full-season ball. Has anything he has done this year surprised you?

Ortiz: No. I always knew––because the desire was always there––that the thirst for knowledge was always there. I knew it was just a matter of time. I think what has changed more than anything is the way that he approaches practice. Before, it wasn't that he went through the motions, but there is a more focused way of doing things. He has focused more on target practice––I'm going to hit the ball in a certain location instead of just swinging for the sake of swinging.

Now he has a purpose behind it, and you see the results. You remember how he started––he was hitting .205 or so in early May, and now he is hitting .276 or something like that. It's a testament of his mental strength. He never wavered. He kept going after it, and he knew the things he needed to improve. We're very happy that he was able to stick with it and reap the rewards for it.

Cole: We talked about Sardinas coming off injury. Last season, Tomas Telis was playing in the AZL while coming off of Tommy John surgery. It seemed that it sapped his bat speed this year, and it seems to be back fully this season. At what point did you feel that he was back at full-strength?

Ortiz: It was like anybody that gets hurt for the first time––especially after a long layover like that. You're going to be cautious, you're going to be a little bit careful, and you don't want to push it and maybe hurt it again because you've already been out for 12 months. So I think that is what happened with Telis at the beginning. Now, you don't even notice that he had surgery.

I think the history that Telis had is going to help Sardinas because he saw that Telis is back. And it's not as dramatic of a surgery, so hopefully he will learn from those things. I know they talk a lot on Facebook and, you know, just doing the things that teenagers do. I think he's going to be okay.

Cole: I've seen Telis hit balls in the dirt for base hits at times in Arizona. He obviously has excellent hand-eye coordination. Is that sort of a blessing and a curse for young players?

Ortiz: It really is. It really is. Because he really thinks he can hit anything. But he's starting to understand, too, that when he stays within his area of strength, he can become more productive. Because he will get some hits that way––and that's why he kept doing it. If he had bad feedback from swinging at bad pitches, he wouldn't be doing it as much. But he is so gifted as far as his bat control and hand-eye coordination that he was able to do things that other people would marvel about.

But I think he is learning to get ahead in the count and take advantage of those pitches. He has done great. It has been really a––not a surprise, because we always knew that he can hit––but he is putting it all together now. The catching is better, the throwing is better. And that was a big doubt. It has been fun watching him develop, for sure.

Cole: You told me that you were in the Dominican Republic early in the DSL season. Luis Marte is a first-year player hitting in the middle of the Rangers' order there, and he is putting up some impressive numbers. What were your impressions of him?

Ortiz: That kid has some kind of tools. People are going to see him here soon. He is passionate. He wants it. He is very personable. He is going to be a good addition to our teams here, for sure. And he is a quick learner. He has some issues––he struggled at the beginning. Now you see him, and he has taken off. He could be a total package. I don't know if the big power is going to happen, but he is going to be able to be a gap-to-gap guy. He is going to run well, and he is very athletic on the field. He's a fun kid to watch.

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