Rangers minor league roving hitting instructor Luis Ortiz––who focuses largely on the system's younger hitters––was kind enough to catch up with me via phone on Sunday, as he was traveling to the Dominican Republic to spend some time with the Rangers' young Latin prospects at Dominican instructs.
Ortiz, who played for the Rangers in 1995 and '96, opened a baseball instruction facility (Swing City) in the Metroplex upon retiring and has published numerous books and DVDs on hitting. He has been with the Texas organization since 2008.
Jason Cole: I want to start off by talking about what happened at instructs. We talked about Jordan Akins during the regular season, and he seemed to take another big step forward at instructs. Can you talk about the improvements that he made this season?
Luis Ortiz: Jordan has really come a long way. He really has the disposition to work, and with the talent that he has, it's a great combination. We kind of changed his setup a little bit. It was slightly open. So we just gave him a little bit better of a starting point so it's a lot easier for him to go to his launching position.
It was just more natural and automatic. He was a little uncomfortable at the beginning, but he stuck with it and some of the results were pretty impressive. I'm very happy with what he has accomplished in the last few weeks. Hopefully he's going to keep developing in the offseason and come back to spring training with that as muscle memory and it's just natural for him to do it.
Cole: In your eyes, is the game starting to look a little more natural to Akins? Is he looking more comfortable as he gets more experience?
Ortiz: Yeah, I really believe so. Before, you would see signs of greatness in three out of 10 swings. Now you see it more in seven or eight. He's becoming more consistent. His batting practice is starting to look more like a real professional power hitter, as we envision him to be one day where he uses all that natural ability to his potential.
Once in awhile, you see the lack of playing time that he had. That's the cool thing about development. You see somebody and you try to visualize where he can go. As we get close, we get even more excited. We're happy––we're really happy with where he's at. I think that the state where he's at right now––that's where he should be right now. It's very exciting.
Cole: Drew Robinson struggled in Spokane numbers-wise. Obviously he had the great extended spring training, and then he went back to the complex and performed well at instructs. What made the difference for him at instructs that he maybe wasn't doing with Spokane?
Ortiz: We try to pinpoint one thing, but it's never one thing. I think it was just a combination of things. I think you go and have that confidence high of having this great extended spring and preparing to go to Spokane. Then he gets hurt. He was out for a few weeks. Now, with little time to get ready, he's sent to Spokane. He's very talented, so he put a lot of pressure on himself when he got there. He felt he probably needed to carry the big load of the team. I think he just tired too hard. He just got deeper and deeper into that hole, and it was harder for him to get out of it.
At instructs, it was just going back to the basics and going back to what got him successful. We wanted to make it so it was more about the automatic, simple movement. He was trying to fix his swing by swinging harder. I said, ‘No. Let's go back to making contact, to hitting the ball to all fields, and to managing the strike zone a lot better.' And then the talent showed up again. It's just trying to get that young mind to settle down so he can go and develop his potential. He just expected too much out of himself, tried too hard, and tried to come back to his full form right from the beginning.
And we talked about it. He was hurt, and it was almost like a mini spring training for him. The first few weeks in Spokane was going to be a like getting ready. Not so much to the extent of draft picks, where they are going from metal bats and bigger competition and all that and making that transition, but it was a little bit of a transition. I think he didn't handle that as well as he probably could have. But you can see the talent. There's no doubt that this kid has some kind of potential.
Cole: You mentioned getting him back into an all-fields approach. That's kind of Robinson's natural approach to hitting, isn't it?
Ortiz: No doubt. He's a very good hitter. I think we need to have him define himself. He can hit it a long way, and he might think he's a power guy or something to that extent. But he's just a complete hitter. He's a guy that has to stay gap-to-gap, and once in awhile, he's going to get his pitch and he's going to hit it a long way.
But his game is going to be a lot of doubles, a lot of RBIs, and hitting for a high average. When he hits home runs, it's not going to be like some of the other guys––something a bigger guy would do––but he has the potential to do it. But that's not the kind of hitter he is.
Cole: Ronald Guzman was obviously very impressive in Arizona. You were able to work with him for the first time at instructs. What were your impressions on him?
Ortiz: He's one of the hardest workers I've ever been around, both when I played and when I coach. This kid knows what he wants, and he's willing to do what needs to be done to get there. He's just very studious of the game––an amazing disposition and attitude to work. He has amazing character. You don't want to talk about his strengths as a kid, but it's just a total package. He has not only the talent to play baseball but also the other intangibles that make him an incredible kid.
He wasn't afraid to make adjustments and take it right over to the game. He understood the concepts and said, ‘Okay, let's try it. Let's see how it works.' He would come up and say that he thought about something all night last night at the hotel and, ‘What do you think if we do this?' I was like, ‘Wow.' You wouldn't think that a kid at 16 years old would be able to be so mature in knowing what works for him. He was able to take something I was giving him and take it to the next step. So it was pretty impressive.
The main thing as far as mechanically that we worked was mostly making sure that he doesn't get too long. He kind of transfers a little early from the back side. We wanted him to be more direct to the ball, because he's 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 and will grow even more. So we don't want him to get a long, loopy swing and get a lot of muscle memory in that. We want him to be able to attack the ball directly and to catch it in front.
I think a lot of the balls that he was going to left-center with was not by design––it was more because he was catching it. He has such good hand-eye coordination that he would just catch it a little deeper because the swing was a little longer. Now, those balls––from the reports I've been hearing from the guys in the Dominican––is that he's starting to pull the ball with more authority. Every report says that this kid is hitting lasers everywhere.
Cole: Guzman is a guy who speaks the English language pretty well given his age. How much does it help a guy like him––being 16 and from the Dominican Republic––to already have a grasp on the language and culture here?
Ortiz: The transition––when you look at those guys––I'd say it in my own story. (Note from Jason: Luis is originally from the Dominican Republic but went to college in the U.S. before being drafted by the Red Sox in 1991) You have a small number of guys who come from the Dominican and go to school in the States, and then they sign. They might collectively have less physical talent, but as a group, they're able to have a bigger percentage of those guys make it to the big leagues.
And I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they understand the culture, they understand the language, and they understand what is needed. They know what needs to get done because they can translate the words that the instructors are giving them a lot clearer. Him having that not only puts him one step ahead, but maybe three or four steps ahead of everybody else. Whoever was managing him did a great job of preparing him for this.
And that's what comes into it. You can have all the talent in the world but––you've seen it, and I've seen it––a lot of these guys have amazing potential, and then we say, ‘Why? Why didn't he make it?' And with a lot of these guys, that bridge was never built––the strong bridge of going from Dominican culture and the Spanish language and maybe a little bit of a lack of education to maybe a more complex society where different things are expected and translating that into execution.
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Luis Ortiz (Part 1)
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