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 organization's young Latin prospects at Dominican Instructional League.
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.
Cole: Nomar Mazara was the other big-money signing from July 2 this season. We saw and heard about the big leg kick in his swing early on, and it's mostly gone now. Can you talk about removing that and the reasoning for doing it?
Ortiz: When we work with the kids, the main thing is to be as natural and simple as possible. To me, he was thinking about his kick. He really thought that the translation of his power came from how high he would kick.
The first thing we talked about, we said, ‘The number one thing you've got to do to hit a baseball the right way is to see it.' So we said we would let him do whatever he wants, but we also said, ‘Let's see how well he can see the ball.' And with Nomar, it became a natural reaction where when the kick kept on getting lower, the better he would start seeing the ball. That's really how it worked. It wasn't like we started putting ankle weights on him to shorten the distance of the foot to the ground. It was more like, ‘Let's do number one first. And number one first is that we've got to get ready to hit. And to get ready to hit, we've got to see the ball the best way that we can so we can make the best decision we can as to where or how we're going to hit that pitch that's approaching us.'
And that's what came down to it at the beginning. After that, it became more of tightening up some of the mechanical issues. But after he started understanding that hitting the ball doesn't happen unless I see it the best that I can, then everything started falling into place for him.
Cole: With that leg kick that he had coming in, is it possible to catch up to velocity or make the adjustment on secondary stuff?
Ortiz: The main thing with the kick––I don't think the height of the kick was the bigger issue. It was the turning of the kick. He would show the heel to the pitcher, and the foot would go as high as the back knee. But he would turn inwards so much. So you've got all that distance to land. Would he catch up to some? Of course, if he was just guessing. But he was going to be so inconsistent. And you saw it at the beginning––he missed a lot of balls that were very hittable. He was having to stay back. And that was the main problem.
The problem was not so much the fact that he had the kick––it was how he was kicking. We had to say, ‘I don't care if you kick, but that knee needs to stay in front. You can't have it go so far back.' And in some of the drills that we did––I had one where I bought him an eye patch, and I put it on the right eye. That way, if he turned the head too much, he wouldn't be able to see it. So he had to keep looking at it with the left eye, and he started to realize, ‘Wow, that was just so much movement.'
The thing is that, when you're doing it, you don't think that you're moving as much unless you are made aware of that. And that's what we did. We studied a lot of the video so we could show him some pictures. We did different things to make him understand, ‘Hey, you don't need all of that extra movement to hit.' The bigger and stronger you are, the less you need to do. That's probably the idea that was put in his head by the people that were helping him out––saying, ‘You're a power guy and you need to hit the ball a long way.' It was almost in his mind that he needed to manufacture power, so that was the best way that he felt he could do it. We looked at guys like Josh Hamilton and said, ‘Look, those guys don't have to move that much, and look how far they hit it.' And that's when he started really getting on track.
Cole: As you went along during the month-plus of instructs with Mazara, how much improvement did you start to see in him? How much are you expecting out in the Dominican?
Ortiz: Well, the improvement was unbelievable. And the thing is that most people that see him once in awhile might just go by the results. When you see him every day and the way that he's thinking––this is a very tough business to evaluate. There is no really quantifiable way to say that the mechanics have to be that much better. Because you can be doing it right and still be hitting .240. And you can be doing it wrong––having bad mechanics––and getting bloopers to fall in and getting the hits. Then everyone says, ‘Look at him, he's finding ways to get hits.' But after awhile, it's going to catch up with you.
I saw a lot of improvement. Not so much in the mechanics, but the main thing is that the way he was thinking and the way he was trying to manage the strike zone. Also, the way he's trying to understand the pitches that he's good at and the pitches that he has trouble with. They were things that he couldn't really tell before because he was moving so much that everything was the same.
So now, he was taking pitches and you're going, ‘Wow, a week or two weeks ago, he was swinging at that.' Now, with borderline outside pitches, he's saying, ‘Okay, I'm just letting that one go. That's not my pitch right now.' So it was good. Oscar Bernard and the guys who are there in the Dominican have been following the same path. They have taken where he left off in Arizona, and all of the reports that I hear is that he's swinging really, really well.
Cole: I wanted to ask about this group of hitters that was at instructs, and how much fun that makes your job. The pitching has certainly ruled the Rangers' farm in recent years, but the crop of position prospects seems to be getting stronger with each year.
Ortiz: That's a testament to the scouting department. They have done an amazing job of not only finding talented kids, but also talented kids with character. Kids that really want to play and want to be part of what the Rangers are building. All that talk about the ‘Rangers way'––you've seen it with those guys. It's their discipline, their attitude, and their disposition to work. It has been amazing.
Going to my baseball school and working with those young kids––a lot of beginners and young kids that didn't have as much talent. Some of them do, but now having this group of kids. You go, ‘Wow, this is amazing how you can get all of these talented kids and give them the information you've gained from the years of playing and coaching.' Hopefully we're shortening the gap between how fast they can understand the concept and how fast they can take off and make it as far as they can make it.
It has been very rewarding, no doubt about that. Especially when you have kids that you know where they're coming from and you know what they're going through, and you can see them blossom into really good hitters.
Cole: The last guy I wanted to ask you about his Jorge Alfaro. He's yet another talented guy with a lot of raw power. It's probably fair to say that his first season in the States was a success, but in what areas do you feel that he can improve in order to take the next step?
Ortiz: The main thing with Jorge––and, as you said, to me, as far as the physical package, he's like Home Depot. The tools that he has––it's unbelievable how amazing the physical package is. The main thing with him is figuring out how he can have his mindset catch up with his physical tools. What it is is that his expectations of being great are so big––and I love him for that. He wants to be the best.
But you're trying to put it into perspective that, ‘You're going to be in the minor leagues for a little bit. We've got to learn something before we move to the next level.' He wants to get it done right away. And I think as he's getting more mature and getting older, he is starting to understand that it's a process. It's not something that just happens just because I learn it and I should do it right away.
You develop muscle memory, you're figuring stuff out, and that's basically it. As he keeps maturing and growing and keeps learning that there are going to be failures along the way and how he learns to handle those failures, he can be––I see this kid, and when he clicks, it's going to be something to watch.
Cole: When I saw him with Spokane, the good swing and power were certainly there, but it also seems like the situational hitting and perhaps shortening the stroke at times still needs to develop. Tell me about that process of becoming more of a complete hitter for him.
Ortiz: Mechanically, his swing is very good. He has as much power as anybody in the minor leagues. His bat speed is off the charts. The thing is that he's a very emotional hitter. He really is. He wants it so badly that sometimes that will in his mind overcomes all of the capacities to make the strike zone judgement that he needs to make. And I think that's what he's working on right now.
He is making sure that he can learn to slow the game down––that he can become a professional hitter. He's learning about what the situation asks from him. And I think that as he starts learning and seeing how the game is played, all those little things that you said is going to be minimized and it's going to become more consistent.
And that's just what it is––as talented as he is, you look at his history. He didn't play that much. He's not one of those guys that––like Jurickson Profar––was going to international tournaments and doing things like that. This kid was basically practicing a lot and being with a buscon for awhile, being with a guy in Colombia and working.
There was a lot of practice and a lot of development as far as the practice time was concerned, but there wasn't much game time. So, of course, he's thinking, ‘I can do it in practice, but why can't I do it in the game?' And when that doesn't translate, it's just very easy to get a little frustrated about that. But that's what it is. I think he's getting better, and he is improving every year, like you said. It will be nice to see in a couple years where he is going to be.
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Luis Ortiz (Part 2)
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